Assessing Phylogeny and Biogeography in a Megadiverse Tropical Plant Family (Melastomataceae)

Fabian A. Michelangeli and collaborators

Princess flowers (Melastomataceae) are one of the largest families of plants, forming prevalent components of many tropical biodiversity hotspots. They serve as a major food source for bees and seed dispersers such as birds and mammals, and play a critical successional role in the regeneration of disturbed forests. Through a combination of field work in targeted regions, molecular phylogenetic techniques, and scanning electron microscopy, the investigators aim to improve the classification of Melastomataceae, develop means to easily identify its major groupings (genera and tribes), track how diagnostic characters in the family have evolved, test ideas on how pollination systems have evolved in tropical ecosystems, evaluate models of ancient climate change, and provide new data to inform and direct conservation priorities.

This research will strengthen collaborations with foreign colleagues and institutions, build capacity in tropical developing countries, and help train the next generation of scientists. The researchers will mentor high school, undergraduate, and graduate students in project-related research and lead a workshop on the biology of Melastomataceae. Results will be disseminated to other scientists through print or web-based journals and made available to the general public through websites and exhibits at the California Academy of Sciences and the New York Botanical Garden.