In February 1992, William Louis Culberson, then president of the Botanical Society of America (BSA), appointed a steering committee charged with providing a framework for identifying research and educational goals, priorities, and opportunities in the botanical sciences as we approach the 21st century. In order to facilitate the widest possible input from the botanical community, a questionnaire was prepared to solicit information from members of the Society. The questionnaire consisted of two parts, one of which solicited numerical data and the other opinion. Questionnaires were also sent to selected members of five related societies, in order to broaden the survey further, In December 1992, the Wisconsin Survey Research Laboratory mailed questionnaires to 2,602 individuals, 2,225 of whom were members of the BSA. The response to the questionnaire was most gratifying; a total of 1,269 questionnaires were returned, or 48.8 percent.
Fourteen committees were established, representing all except the historical and regional sections of the Society, and charged with drafting a report on the current priorities and concerns for its area or discipline. Ten societies participated with the Botanical Society in drafting the reports: American Bryological and Lichenological Society with the Bryological and Lichenological Section; Society for Economic Botany with the Economic Botany Section; Mycological Society of America with the Microbiological Section; Phycological Society of America with the Phycological Section; American Society of Plant Physiologists with the Physiological Section; International Society of Chemical Ecology and Phytochemical Society of North America with the Phytochemical Section; American Fern Society with the Pteridological Section; American Society of Plant Taxonomists with the Systematics Section; and Association for Tropical Biology with the Tropical Biology Section.
Because of the diversity of the areas and disciplines represented by the sections of the Botanical Society and the many general common concerns expressed by the respondents to the questionnaire, the steering committee decided not to attempt to identify research goals for the broad community of plant biologists, but to focus on the common themes of the section reports. These include: the need to integrate the findings of molecular, genetic, and organismal biology within each discipline; the need for interdisciplinary research to solve major research questions; the uniqueness of plants and other organisms traditionally studied by botanists as model systems; that environment-organism interactions are fundamental to our understanding of every level of biological organization; the great potential of molecular biology and new technology, together with the need to preserve all basic disciplines upon which the botanical sciences are founded, including those that are currently unfashionable; and that evolutionary relations among organisms are at the very center of virtually every research effort. Executive summaries of the section reports are presented in Appendix A.
Overwhelmingly, the responses to the survey emphasized two points: the need for integrating the various levels of plant research, and the need for strengthening education and communication about plants and botanical sciences at all levels of society. This document addresses the communication problem by offering botanists a selection of material for explaining to non-botanists the intellectual (Part I) and practical (Part II) value of plants and the botanical sciences.
This report has had a long gestation period. It represents the efforts of an unprecedented number of plant biologists who unselfishly gave their time to provide a new vision for botany as we enter the 21st century. To succeed, the Botanical Society of America, its related societies, and each of us individually must implement the goals and recommended actions enumerated in Part III of this document. They are goals and actions identified through the survey and section reports, goals and actions recommended by and for plant biologists.
This report should be of great value to individuals in developing persuasive reasons for representation of botany in the research and educational missions of their institutions and possibly in developing plans for appropriate avenues of plant research at their institutions. We offer it in the hope that it will serve as a catalyst for discussion and action leading to renewed vigor for the botanical sciences in the United States.