Ochna (Ochnaceae)
Evolutionary history & diversity of Mickey Mouse plants
A PhD project (from January 2019) by Toral Shah funded by the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP at Imperial College London & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew studies the evolutionary history and diversity of the genus Ochna (Ochnaceae).

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.

This PhD project will integrate data from multiple sources including morphology, ecology and targeted sequencing using the Angiosperms353 baits developed for Kew's Plant and Fungal Trees of Life (PAFTOL) programme and Ochnaceae-specific baits developed by collaborator Julio Schneider to improve our knowledge of the evolutionary history and current diversity of Ochna.
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Relevant publications
Shah T, Mashimba FH, Suleiman HO, Mbailwa YS, Savolainen V, Larridon I, Darbyshire I (2022) The phylogeny of Ochna (Ochnaceae) and a new infrageneric classification. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society: 0.1093/botlinnean/boab071. Available online.

Shah T, Schneider J, Maurin O, Baker WJ, Forest F, Savolainen V, Darbyshire I,
Larridon I (2021) Joining forces in Ochnaceae phylogenomics: A tale of two targeted sequencing probe kits. American Journal of Botany 108(7): 1201-1216. Available online. (Invited article - Special Issue: Exploring Angiosperms353: a Universal Toolkit for Flowering Plant Phylogenomics)

Shah T, Burrows J, Darbyshire I (2018) A new species of Ochna (Ochnaceae) from the Barberton Mountains of Mpumalanga, South Africa. Phytotaxa 374(3): 241-248. Available online.
Main collaborators
United Kingdom