Insights on the evolutionary ecology of the woody flora in tropical Africa

01 October 2020 → 30 September 2023
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Natural sciences
    • Biogeography and phylogeography
    • Phylogeny and comparative analysis
    • Speciation
    • Plant ecology
    • Plant morphology, anatomy and physiology
Convergent evolution Functional traits Niche modelling Phylogeny Niche conservatism Niche divergence Tropical Africa Woody species
Project description

While some plant lineages are strictly associated to a specific biome, evidence of widely distributed woody genera transcending biome boundaries have also been reported. However, why and how these lineages were able to evolve and occur in wide geographical space, while other ones display restricted distribution, are still poorly addressed questions. In this project, we will address these questions for a large set of woody lineages across Africa. We propose to quantify the extent of past niche evolution and the degree of convergent evolution in traits for multiple woody genera from different families. While species affinity to a specific biome is commonly used to study niche evolution, we will develop an innovative method based on the quantitative description of niches. The abundant diversity data recently published, in conjunction with environmental layers (climate, fire, soil, and herbivory), have opened the way for statistical clustering of species sharing similar niche, and so, the identification of Phylogenetic Niche Divergence for woody genera. Using available dataset and collections and new physiological data, we will identify the functional changes associated with niche evolution. We will particular focus on traits reflecting adaptation to climate and soil, describe in the Plant Economic Spectrum, and also on traits associated with adaptation to fire and herbivory such as architectural traits, root traits, bark thickness, bud protection and below ground structures.