by Lee Kass
Last July, during Botanical Society of America (BSA) annual banquet at the Botany & Plant Biology 2007 Joint Congress in Chicago, IL, our Department Chair, Dr. William L. Crepet, was honored with the "Botanical Society of America Merit Award".
Dr. William Crepet was recognized for his many contributions in paleobotany and plant phylogeny. His early work as a PhD student at Yale University on the reproductive structures of Cycadeoidea led to a better understanding of the enigmatic fossil plant group known as the Bennettitales (or Cycadeoids). The Cycadeoids are a group of Mesozoic (~250-65 million years ago [mya]) plants that, although they look like Cycads ("sago-palms"), have been thought to be more closely related to flowering plants.
His interest in Darwin's "abominable mystery" - the origin of flowering plants, in pollination biology and in flower structure led him to search in the Early Tertiary period (~65-24 mya) where he found and described what, at the time, were the oldest representatives of several flowering plant families: grasses and legumes for example.
The search for clues into the origin and diversification of flowering plants brought him back to the Cretaceous period (~140-65 mya) where in collaboration with colleagues at Cornell, he has brought to the light even older flowering plants: the oldest waterlily, the oldest monocotyledon, the oldest hamamelidacean and the oldest ericaleans. However, his greatest contributions are not confined to finding "the oldest", but also in integrating the information from the fossil record with living plants in an inclusive, holistic and multidisciplinary framework.
His contributions to phylogenetic theory and methods, to the study of ancient floral structure, to the elucidation of ancient pollination mechanisms have greatly enriched our knowledge of flowering plant evolution. His ongoing study of the "perplexing phenomenon" of angiosperm diversification is certain to advance our understanding of the natural world.
The Botanical Society of America has recognized this in Dr. Crepet and for that, it has awarded him one of the 2007 Botanical Society of America Merit Awards. Other awardees were Dr. Edith Taylor (University of Kansas) and Dr. Bruce Baldwin (University of California, Berkeley).