“An inflorescence of males?”

A few nights ago, I joined a group of new found friends (Mikey, Matt, Ty and Ray) to grab a bite at Mimi’s Café in River Park—apparently, Chicken and Fruit is a hit specialty! I ate the Fried Chicken Salad…
Before dinner was served, I cared to notice the flowers on the table and took a closer look at them. My friends thought I was being a little weird, but I couldn’t resist a passing remark. I said something to the effect of, “this is an inflorescence of male flowers!” They got somewhat inquisitive about how I could tell a male flower from a female one. And, so I explained in introductory botany lingo the different parts of a male and female flower.

But every time I chance upon giving an explanation for such occurrences, I feel there’s always more to tell. It almost seems like there exists an imaginary divide between explaining small scale patterns and how they relate to the bigger picture. Yes, I just paraphrased Rosenzweig! After all, why must we expect people other us (the science types) to become remotely enthused about telling a male flower from a female one? I mean, seriously, there are more interesting questions, ones that would probably earn you a buck here and there—grant money. So what benefit does it serve that we know a bunch of facts but stumble when we have to relate them to the bigger picture? Wouldn’t such an approach, one that integrates small scale patterns and macro scale processes provide a richer and deeper explanation that would give people pause to reflect and appreciate the process of evolution—indeed the depth of time through which the world has evolved?
The more I muse about how to offer a succinct yet detailed insight about something as small as male and female flower structure, I find the evolutionary link is often given little or no mention. I have yet to examine how to integrate evolutionary explanations in every day observations, especially when others expect an amateur ecologist to tell them something more about nature in a more exciting almost hip style.
Those among us who teach introductory biology ought to consider, perhaps, teaching the course from an evolutionary perspective—I think such an approach would be more organic, one that integrates the various sub disciplines in biology in a way that makes sense through the process of evolution. In this way, people gain a deeper perspective on the mechanisms that drive living systems. It becomes a temptation for me to present mitosis, natural selection and biodiversity as individual, seemingly unrelated concepts when in fact the evolutionary underpinning of life itself should be accentuated within each area of biology.
Moreover, the concept of reconciliation ecology ought to permeate our own research work. Why must we expect funding agencies to care about the physiology of a weed species? Or as a matter of fact, our findings indicate that the tiger salamander is affected by urbanization in the Central Valley, but so what? When will people begin to become interested in such questions before we can demand any sort of action to the problem at hand?
Reconciliation ecology transcends our understanding of evolutionary ecology in human dominated landscapes—it should even shape how we address a research question within the context of humans and the effect our research findings will have on their lives. It becomes almost impractical to study evolutionary ecology devoid of human interactions because our species has unequivocally impacted the global ecosystem—the negative ramifications need no further mention.

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