Understanding Biodiversity

Revision of the Genus Artocarpus (Moraceae)

jackfruit market

With a National Science Foundation grant, the Chicago Botanic Garden is working with international collaborators in Southeast Asia to study the distribution and evolution of an economically important group of plants. With approximately 60 species, Artocarpus is the third largest genus in the plant family that contains figs and mulberries (Moraceae). Artocarpus contains numerous economically important species (grown for timber and fruit) native to Southeast Asia. Two species, jackfruit and breadfruit, are cultivated throughout the tropics.

Fossil Plants in Mongolia

Camping

A team of paleobotanists from the Chicago Botanic Garden, Yale University, and Niigata University (Japan) joined colleagues in Mongolia for field work to search for early fossil flowers and remains of other fossil plants. The fossil record is the best source of evidence to document the origin and early evolution of a group of plants such as the angiosperms. Mongolia has an abundance of fossil deposits that date to the early Cretaceous (approximately 100 to 130 million years ago), when flowering plants first appear in the fossil record and then rapidly diversify.

Evolutionary Relationships and Diversity in the Legume Family

legumes

The legume family, which includes important crop plants (e.g., beans, peas, and soybeans) and many other economically important species, is the third largest plant family, with approximately 730 genera and 19,400 species found in all parts of the world. In addition to being a source for economically important plants, the family is also important because legumes dominate many tropical ecosystems. An international team of botanists is working to develop a better understanding of the diversity and evolutionary relationships in this important family.

Biodiversity of Symbiotic and Lignin-Degrading Fungi in Seasonal Dry Tropical Forests

Seasonally dry tropical forest systems are globally and regionally threatened by urbanization, land-use change, and climate change, yet they are of high conservation value. As in many systems, there is little knowledge of fungal diversity. Our objectives are to document seasonal baseline data of community composition and diversity of ectomycorrhizal communities in younger (about 10 years old) and older (about 26 years old) stands of oak (Quercus oleoides) in Costa Rica.

Biodiversity, Biogeography, and Conservation of Cantharellacae

chanterelle mushroom

Cantharellace includes choice edible fungi such as chanterelles and trumpet fungi. They also are important beneficial symbionts of forest trees. Many species in the group are listed as threatened and endangered in countries that list fungi. Activities in 2013 focused on completing work on the species found in a unique forest in Guyana (second paper published) and working to identify Cantharellus species of the Chicago region (at least one species appears to be new to science).

Biodiversity, Biogeography, and Conservation of Laccaria

Laccaria has been used as a model group to study fungi that form ectomycorrhizas (beneficial symbionts of forest trees). Activities in 2013 focused on analyzing the DNA data and information from long-term fieldwork to complete the most comprehensive study of diversity, evolutionary relationships, and biogeographic patterns of any genus of ectomycorrhizal fungi. A manuscript on Tibetan species of Laccaria, including several new species, was published.

Developing Tools to Analyze the Population Biology of Mushrooms and Related Fungi

mushrooms

A lack of information on the population biology of fungi has greatly hindered efforts to understand their biology and to include them in conservation discussions and action plans. Studies have been severely limited by difficulties in obtaining genetic markers to differentiate among individuals and populations needed to examine issues such as fragmentation, the effect of pollution, and potential over-harvesting for food. A pilot project to use newly developed high-throughput DNA sequencing tools to obtain informative markers was completed in 2013.

Early Land Plant Origin and Diversification

Approximately 470 million years ago, the first plants to inhabit land arose from green algae. Subsequently, these plants diversified to form the foundation of all terrestrial ecosystems. As part of a collaboration with the 1KP project (a multidisciplinary consortium of plant biologists and bioinformaticians led by researchers at the University of Alberta and Beijing Genomics Institute in Shenzhen, Hong Kong), we developed methods to process large amounts of DNA sequence data to better understand the origin and evolution of early land plants.

The Moss Tree of Life

research trip in Costa Rica

Pleurocarpous mosses are traditionally defined as having short, lateral reproductive branches. Pleurocarps (Hypnanae) compose the most speciose lineage of mosses, a result of an explosive radiation during the Jurassic period, at a time when flowering plants began to dominate many terrestrial environments. Repeated multidirectional habitat transitions occurred as this group evolved, leading to the loss of morphological characters that may be used to describe groups.

Diversification of Diatoms, a Hyperdiverse Group of Photosynthetic Marine Algae

Diatoms account for roughly 20 percent of global primary production, while making up less than 0.2 percent of primary producer biomass. Additionally, they are the key drivers of biogeochemical silica cycling and have acquired a diverse set of metabolic pathways including a complete urea cycle (previously only known from animals), iron-concentrating mechanisms, and polyamine biosynthesis. Surprisingly, these diverse functional traits were all enabled by the acquisition of genes transferred horizontally from bacteria.

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