Research

The sedge family Cyperaceae have been the core subject of my research since 2005. Profound knowledge of this beautiful plant family has been built up. Research focuses on sedge evolution, diversity, ecology and conservation using a multidisciplinary approach integrating molecular methods such as Sanger sequencing and high-throughput sequencing, with expertise in systematics, taxonomy and nomenclature, ecology, comparative morphology, anatomy, ontogeny, biogeography, etc. The main geographical focus is on Africa and Madagascar, although a global approach is taken when studying widely distributed sedge lineages. Cyperaceae research resulted in BSc, MSc and PhD dissertations, and many scientific publications.

Stacks Image 15

Worldwide about 20% of all plant species are estimated to be threatened with extinction, and the greatest threat to plant biodiversity is human induced habitat loss often linked to clearance of land for agricultural purposes. Poor basic botanical knowledge of species (generally the units of conservation) limits the effectiveness of long-term plant conservation. To inform and prioritise conservation actions, fundamental botanical knowledge needs to be integrated with assessments of the threats to the continued survival of plant species using the IUCN Red List criteria and tools like GeoCAT. This research is linked to my own research aims and to the Tropical Important Plant Areas programme of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Stacks Image 17

Despite the perception that discovery of new species to science is something from the time of great explorers such as Darwin, many new species are described each year from underexplored areas. Focus of the research is on the (sub)tropics, in particular Africa and Madagascar. New species and genera of Cyperaceae and Rubiaceae have been described based on own fieldwork and discoveries in herbaria, while other species from Asteraceae/Compositae, Bromeliaceae, Fabaceae/Leguminosae, Hydrangeaceae etc. have been rediscovered after not have been seen in the wild for 50 years or more. The latter is a vital part of assessing the conservation status of species.

Stacks Image 41

Species of the mainly African genus Ochna (± 85 species) are often of great ecological importance because they can form a significant element of the woody vegetation and because the striking bright red and black fruits constitute a significant food source for birds and other fauna. Whilst many Ochna species are associated with dry woodland and rocky hillslopes, the genus has also speciated in forest habitats, particularly in the tropical dry forests of eastern Africa which are of critical conservation concern due to their combination of high species turnover and significant threat from habitat destruction due to anthropogenic pressures. Despite its importance, Ochna remains poorly studied from both a taxonomic and evolutionary perspective. A PhD project is underway which will integrate data from multiple sources to improve our knowledge of the evolutionary history and current diversity of Ochna.

Stacks Image 19

Most Neotropical Magnolias are highly endemic and threatened with extinction due to habitat decline. Urgent conservation actions are needed. Efficient in situ and ex situ species conservation management requires information on genetic diversity at species and population level, the units of conservation. Conservation genetics serves as a basis for better-focused selection of individuals, populations and species with high remaining genetic diversity. Wit an international team of botanists, this project aims to unravel the evolutionary history of the Neotropical Magnolias and to apply conservation genetics on a selection of species to inform conservation actions undertaken by local partners and stakeholders.

Stacks Image 21

The high-throughput sequencing technique targeted sequencing may help build a solid framework to investigate evolution in the cactus family. Collaborative research is underway linked to the Plant and Fungal Trees of Life programme at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The highly endemic flora of the Chilean biodiversity hotspot is increasingly threatened by habitat loss due to anthropogenic causes and climate change. A recent project focused on threatened cactus species of Copiapoa, Echinopsis, Eriosyce and Eulychnia of which the evolution and genetic diversity had not yet been studied using molecular approaches. The scientific knowledge concerning genetic diversity at species and population level of these cacti will not only help to understand general patterns of evolution in the studied genera, but will also be of great value towards long-term in situ and ex situ conservation as we expect to be able to recommend specific conservation actions based on our results.

Stacks Image 25

The two largest genera of Eriocaulaceae in Africa and Madagascar are Eriocaulon and Mesanthemum. As part of an international collaboration, African species of Eriocaulon have been included in a global molecular phylogenetic study of genus. A second project looked to answer whether the morphologically distinguishable ephemeral Mesanthemum species from West Africa represent a monophyletic group, and if so, whether they represent a new genus to science, or whether they are part of a more broadly circumscribed genus Mesanthemum.

Stacks Image 23