Magnolias (Magnoliaceae)
Neotropical Magnolias
This ongoing project (for which I act as co-PI) focuses on threatened plant species, i.e. the Neotropical Magnolias, most of which are highly endemic and Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered according to recent assessments for the IUCN Red List. Additionally, nearly all target species are absent from ex situ collections anywhere in the world, and most of them are not included in any in situ conservation actions. Few of them have been studied from a molecular point of view. Taking into account that the habitat of a significant number of the target species is continuously declining because of deforestation and land use change, urgent conservation actions are needed. Efficient in situ and ex situ species conservation management plans require information on genetic diversity at species and population level, i.e. the units of conservation. The research field conservation genetics serves as a basis for better-focused selection of individuals, populations and species with high remaining genetic diversity. The main aim of this project is to unravel the evolutionary history of the Neotropical Magnolias and to apply conservation genetic studies on a selection of Caribbean and Mesoamerican species to inform conservation actions undertaken by local partners and stakeholders.

Conservation genetic studies of a range of Caribbean and Mesoamerican species are underway. High-throughput sequencing of 140 DNA samples of Neotropical Magnolia species is ongoing. This data will be analysed by two Mexican PhD students at the Instituto de Ecología who will use it to investigate species limits (conservation units), and will relate the molecular data with morphological and biogeographical data. Throughout the project, results and advice are shared with NGO partners who carry out on-the-ground conservation of Neotropical Magnolias. Soon a student at Ghent University is starting his MSc project on the Magnolias of the Dominican Republic. Graduate students from various Latin American countries including Cuba, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil are also involved in the project.
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Relevant publications
Guzmán-Díaz S, Aldaba-Nuñez FA, Veltjen E, Asselman P, Larridon I, Samain MS (2022) Comparison of Magnoliaceae plastomes with emphasis on Neotropical Magnolia. Plants 11(3): 448. Available online.
Caribbean Magnolias
Emily Veltjen recently completed her PhD project (for which I acted as co-supervisor) assessing the genetic diversity of the Caribbean Magnolia species at species and population level throughout their distribution area. This knowledge allowed us to study the evolutionary history of these species, including the evolutionary relationships between the Caribbean Magnolia species and other Magnolias. It enabled us to reveal evolutionary patterns that led to the present-day diversity and distribution. With the use of fossil data, times of origin and radiation were estimated and aligned with the known geological and climatological history in the area.

The scientific knowledge concerning the genetic diversity and the evolutionary history of the Caribbean Magnolia species generated during this PhD project will not only help to understand general patterns of evolution in Magnolia but will also be of great value towards in situ and ex situ conservation of these species in the Caribbean, as we expect to be able to recommend specific conservation actions based on our results.
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Relevant publications
Quintana Delgado J, Hernández Rodríguez M, Testé E, Palmarola Bejerano A, Veltjen E, Asselman P, Valdés de la Cruz M, Larridon I, Samain MS, González-Torres LR (in review) Structure and genetic diversity of Magnolia cubensis subsp. cubensis (Magnoliaceae). Revista del Jardín Botánico Nacional, Universidad de La Habana. [in Spanish]

Veltjen E, Tamaki I, Asselman P, Goetghebeur P, Samain MS,
Larridon I (major revisions) An integrative approach to understanding the diversity of Magnolia dodecapetala (Magnoliaceae: Talauma subsect. Talauma) in the Lesser Antilles. Journal of Biogeography.

Veltjen E, Lozano ET, Palmarola Bejerano A, Asselman P, Hernández Rodríguez M, González Torres LR, Chatrou LW, Goetghebeur P,
Larridon I, Samain MS (2021) The evolutionary history of the Caribbean Magnolias (Magnoliaceae): testing species delimitations and biogeographical hypotheses using molecular data. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution: 10.1016/j.ympev.2021.107359. Available online.

Hernández Rodríguez M, Testé Lozano E, Veltjen E, Quintana Delgado J, Palmarola Bejerano A, Valdés de la Cruza M, Asselman P, Larridon I, Samain MS, González Torres LR (2021) Effect of the landscape on functional and spatial connectivity in Magnolia cubensis (Magnoliaceae) in two mountain massifs of Cuba. Conservation Genetics 22: 1051-1068. Available online.

Hernández M, Palmarola A, Veltjen E, Asselman P, Testé E, Larridon I, Samain MS, González-Torres LR (2020) Population structure and genetic diversity of Magnolia cubensis subsp. acunae (Magnoliaceae): effects of habitat fragmentation and implications for conservation. Oryx 54(4): 451-459. Available online.

Veltjen E, Asselman P, Palmarola Bejerano A, Hernández Rodríguez M, Testé Lozano E, González-Torres LR, Goetghebeur P, Larridon I, Samain MS (2019) Genetic patterns in Neotropical Magnolia species using de novo developed SSR markers. Heredity 122: 485-500 (published online 27 October 2018). Available online.
From 2012-2015, I was involved as co-PI in a research project to compare genetic diversity between wild populations and living ex situ plant collections of three unrelated Angiosperm groups with different life histories and growth forms, i.e. Hydrangea, Magnolia and selected cactus genera. The project was executed in collaboration with Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and the Instituto de Ecología (INECOL), Mexico and was funded by Fondation Franklinia. My role in this project focused on Chilean cacti.
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Relevant publications
See under Cacti and above.
Main collaborators
United Kingdom
Emily Veltjen (Ghent University)
Pieter Asselman (Botanic Garden Meise)
Luis Roberto González Torres (The University of British Colombia)
Alejandro Palmarola Bejerano, Majela Hernández Rodríguez & Ernesto Testé Lozano (Universidad de la Habana)
Marie-Stéphanie Samain (Instituto de Ecología)