Biennial 2015 Details

Systematics – the science that underpins biology
26-28 August 2015 – University of Oxford


(all details correct as of 17 Oct 2014)

This three-day meeting of the Systematics Association will be held at the University of Oxford and comprises four thematic sessions and contributed papers. We will be using several locations throughout the University (Plant Sciences, Zoology & University Museum) for the symposia whereas accommodation and the conference dinner will be held at Christchurch College. This site provides information for the programme and for submitting abstracts for contributed papers and the Oxford site is for registering and booking accommodation. Additional accommodation not officially linked to the conference can be found at:

Paper free conference

This will be a paperless meeting and the abstract book will be supplied as a pdf document in advance of the meeting.


Keynote Address:
Michael Donoghue, Yale, USA
Peter Holland FRS, Department of Zoology, Oxford

Symposia 1
The value of long term monitoring plots for plant systematics and ecology in the tropics

Toby Pennington, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Tim Baker, University of Leeds


Ecologists have established a large number of permanent inventory plots across the tropics, focussed on understanding the controls of ecosystem structure and function, or maintenance of alpha diversity. These plots offer a great deal to systematists for completing the biotic inventory of the tropics, both in terms of species discovery and understanding distributions. Such links would also benefit ecologists, as once the organisms in these plots are described and identified consistently among sites, a wide range of other questions, such as the controls of beta diversity, can be addressed. Finally, a suite of new, interdisciplinary questions may emerge from such collaborations: because of the additional data gathered by ecologists at these plots, such as data on the soils, climate, and traits of plants, they represent fertile ground for studies of evolutionary ecology and biogeography

Confirmed Speakers

Symposia 2
Comparative approaches to the origin of biodiversity

Colin Hughes (principal), Institute of Systematic Botany, Zurich
Matt Friedman, University of Oxford


Variation in the tempo of species and trait evolution through time and among lineages are striking and universal features of evolutionary diversification. The reasons why some lineages diversify rapidly and others not at all, why some clades are species-rich and others are not, and the underlying factors determining these differences, are fundamental to understanding how life became so diverse. Several recent developments are transforming our ability to understand the tempo of species and trait evolution and the overall evolutionary dynamics of species diversification: (i) the development of more sophisticated and powerful tools for modeling trajectories of diversification and for combining neontological and paleontological evidence; (ii) the proliferation of new molecular phylogenetic data, for many more clades spanning broader taxonomic, geographical and temporal levels; (iii) the assembly of more comprehensive species geographic distribution, functional and life history trait data sets. These developments are
providing exciting new insights into rates of evolutionary diversification across time and space. This symposium will explore these questions and developments with contributions encompassing both methodological issues and empirical studies of large clades spanning the Tree of Life.

Confirmed Speakers

Symposia 3
Accelerating the pace of taxonomy

Robert Scotland, University of Oxford,
Quentin Wheeler, New York


A major threat of the biodiversity crisis is that we will never learn everything we would wish to know about the origins, evolution, and organization of the biosphere. Some knowledge is key to understanding the functions of complex ecosystems. Other knowledge is key to piecing together the multi-billion-year history of life on our planet and making wise conservation decisions. Historically, a great deal of what we know of biodiversity has been captured through revisionary taxonomy and monography. The broadly comparative aspect of monographs means that they remain the most time-efficient and effective way to reassess existing data and add new data for large numbers of species (figure 1). That said it is impossible to revise all taxa or address all gaps in knowledge at the same time. We must not only decide how to prioritize which taxa to monograph first, but also the sequence and relative emphasis to place on various categories of knowledge (Figure 2). The answer may be a mosaic of meeting various high priority objectives but this still requires difficult decisions regard priorities and distribution of limited resources. All of this would be challenging under any circumstance, but with the new reality of the biodiversity crisis knowledge of some species and information about them is literally a now or never proposition. While recent commentary on the global inventory of all species on Earth has largely focused on the size and extent of the remaining task in terms of numbers of species awaiting discovery and technological tools that aid in that discovery, a very real need exists to carefully examine the process of monography and to assure that what we are proceeding as effectively as possible. This includes identifying those aspects of traditional monographic work that are valuable and should be preserved as well as new approaches that add speed or quality to the work. This symposium will address how we can accelerate the pace of producing taxonomic revisions and monographs for species-rich clades.

Confirmed Speakers


Symposia 4
Rooted in deep time: Palaeontological contributions to systematics

Roger Benson, Lecturer in Palaeobiology, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, OX1 3AN,
Matt Friedman, Lecturer in Paleobiology, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, OX1 3AN, U.K.
Paul Smith, Director, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, University of Oxford, Parks Road, OX1 3PW,


Palaeontology provides unique data with a bearing on the evolutionary history of biological lineages. This symposium will survey the Tree of Life, examining the impact that fossils make on hypothesized relationships, sequences of character change, and timings of major divergences in a series of major clades ranging from single-celled plankton to mammals. Specifically, this symposium sets out to examine: (i) the ways in which extreme variability of the fossil record across biological groups influences approaches to systematic questions in different clades; (ii) the way in which incomplete or biased preservation of biological structures might bias phylogenetic inference; (iii) the relevance of palaeontological data for exposing instances of homoplasy in extant groups that might otherwise lead to erroneous systematic hypotheses; (iv) the role of fossils in atomizing sequences of character change leading to modern clades. Apart from exploring these major themes, our symposium sets out to summarize relationships and evolutionary history for conspicuous branches of the Tree of Life in light of fossils, paralleling similar efforts completed largely or exclusively with recent data.

Confirmed Speakers

  • Tracy Aze, University of Oxford (confirmed) [foraminiferans]
  • Paul Kenrick, The Natural History Museum (confirmed) [plants]
  • David Legg, University of Oxford (confirmed) [arthropods]
  • Russell Garwood, University of Manchester (confirmed) [insects]
  • Jakob Vinther, University of Bristol (confirmed) [molluscs/annelids]
  • Imran Rahman, University of Bristol (confirmed) [echinoderms]
  • Robert Sansom, University of Manchester (confirmed) [chordates]
  • Martin Brazeau, Imperial College Silwood Park (confirmed) [gnathostomes]
  • Johannes Müller, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (confirmed) [lepidosaurs]
  • Robert Asher, University of Cambridge (confirmed) [mammals]


Accommodation and subsistence

Details of rooms.  Details of meals
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