Major focus on Memecylon.....
In the current research project, we focus on the molecular phylogeny of Memecylon in a genus-wide context. In addition, we aim to investigate morphology and niche in Memecylon and reconstruct morphological, geographic and niche evolution. We also intend to explore the drivers of diversification of Memecylon in different floristic regions.
South African Buxifolia clade
Buxifolia clade (Melastomataceae: Memecylon) which includes 10 taxa and has an overall range from East Africa to the eastern part of South Africa and Madagascar. I focus on two seemingly non-monophyletic taxa, Memecylon natalense and M. bachmannii in the Buxifolia clade distributed in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Limpopo provinces that span the tropical-temperate transition, with the goal of understanding the evolutionary dynamics on the forest archipelago in South Africa. They are morphologically distinct, spatially isolated, and differ in flowering periods, but nuclear rDNA spacer sequences (ITS and ETS) are identical and cluster together in an unresolved polytomy which can be an indication that these taxa are products of recent divergence or a result of introgressive hybridization. It is likely these loci are insufficient to capture the true species tree, and further studies are needed to determine species boundary between these two groups. As species-level phylogeny reconstruction can be complicated by hybridization and incomplete lineage sorting (ILS), the use of multiple low-copy nuclear loci is crucial to estimate phylogenetic relationships, elucidate processes of introgression, and employ coalescent-based methods. By integrating next generation sequencing, cytological techniques, niche modeling and leading-edge computational analyses, this research will unravel the evolution and phylogeography of this clade. Here is a blog from Pondoland Crew, South Africa about one of our field visits:
A little about Memecylon.....Occupying a wide range of habitats, paleotropical and species-rich Memecylon (Melastomataceae) stands out to be a fascinating group. It is reported of having approximately 350 species in the world as small understory trees or woody shrubs. The diversity of Memecylon is concentrated in tropical Africa, Indo-Malaysian region, China, Australia to Fiji Islands, but most are regionally or even locally endemic. This group provides a significant food supply to wildlife as a source of fruit. Their attractive flowers give them an ornamental value. Some species such as M. capitellatum, M. umbellatum, M. edule, M. parvifolium etc. are known for their medicinal uses.