image of green leaf in the Caribbean.

Phylogeography and Conservation Genetics of the Caribbean Zamia clade

Dennis Stevenson and collaborators

Cycads are ancient seed plants that evolved approximately 300 million years ago. Because of their antiquity, novelty and association with dinosaurs, cycads have long fascinated the general public. Some of the species of the largest genus of cycads, Zamia, (commonly known as “coontie” or “bay rush”) form a natural group restricted to the West Indies and Florida. These populations have been treated as comprising as few as one to as many as nine different species. The proposed research seeks to simultaneously investigate patterns of genetic variation in the Caribbean populations of Zamia throughout their range using microsatellite (repetitive) DNA markers, as well as test species boundaries using DNA sequences of genes from the nuclear genome that occur as a single copy or a low number of copies. The simultaneous analyses of different DNA data sets across organisms that inhabit the “gray zone” between populations and species will offer an opportunity to test the convergence of genetics and evolutionary history.

The Caribbean Islands form a biodiversity hotspot with global conservation priority. These studies will contribute to outline conservation strategies for Caribbean cycads, which are all endangered species. Six students from a university with the largest proportion of Hispanic undergraduates in the USA will gain research opportunities though this project. The research brings together a multi-institutional research team with complementary strengths and a proven collaborative history.

More information: The Cycad pages


Green fern and purple flower from Jamaica

Zamia erosa, from Jamaica.