Request for help
David W. Kramer
kramer.8 at osu.edu
Mon May 14 10:30:27 EST 2001
Jon Monroe wrote, in part:
All organisms are faced with similar challenges in
>life (getting and processing energy, reproducing...) and there are quite
>a lot of similarities in how diverse taxa solve these problems.
I know Jon personally and know him to be an excellent teacher so this is in
no way a personal attack (Jon will know that). But this is an assertion
that must be challenged.
Similarities? Animals may have found similar solutions but many of those
solutions will not work for plants. This is exactly the reason that plants
should remain in your courses! I, too, reluctantly have had to admit that
students are not interested in plants, or shall we say less interested in
plants than in animals. But that is due, in large part, because no one has
given them much reason to be interested in plants! In our non-majors
introduction to plant biology (a 2-quarter course), we constantly emphasize
that PLANTS ARE FACED WITH MANY CHALLENGES BECAUSE, UNLIKE MOST ANIMALS,
THEY ARE STATIONARY. [Is it true that all stationary animals are aquatic?]
Then we focus the entire course at looking at the fascinating ways that
plants have solved these problems.
For example, all organisms must obtain and conserve water to stay alive.
But when animals get thirsty, they can simply walk to the nearest stream or
lake or the dog's water bowl in the corner of the laundry room!
Challenging perhaps during a drought but usually pretty easy. What about
plants? Animals can be much less "concerned" with conserving water because
it is so easy for them to obtain water but plants have mechanisms (water
storage tissue in stems, leaves, fruits; stomata which open and close; waxy
coatings; hairy surfaces; sunken stomata; etc.) designed to store or
conserve water. If we simply teach botany by describing leaf anatomy, stem
anatomy, root anatomy, etc. without focusing on the process, i.e., the
adaptive value of these features for the stationary plant, the students
understandably will be bored.
This same approach can be applied to other PROCESS aspects of plant
biology: nutrition (hunting and gathering vs. photosynthesis, making
vitamins rather than eating vitamins, symbiotic solutions for mineral
absorption, etc.), finding a mate [use of pollinators to move the male
gametophyte (pollen grain) closer to the female gametophyte (ovule) so
sexual reproduction (fertilization) is possible], dispersal of offspring to
avoid or reduce competition, etc., etc. Presented in this way, the
structure and function of the plant can be converted from a "Now here's the
list of terms you need to remember," to "I wonder how plants cope with this
I applaud switching from a descriptive to a process-based approach but if
you eliminate plants you have eliminated the most challenging and
interesting part of biology. As you say, when it comes to animals, there
are quite a lot of similarities in how diverse taxa solve these problems.
That sounds to me like a recipe for boredom. Let's keep the plants in
biology so our students can learn about some really inventive and unusual
David W. Kramer, Chair
Botanical Society of America
Asst. Prof. of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology
Ohio State University at Mansfield
1680 University Drive
Mansfield, OH 44906-1547
Phone: (419) 755-4344 FAX: (419) 755-4367
e-mail: kramer.8 at osu.edu
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