EPIMEDIUM: Species boundaries

February 2013 to June 2014, MSc study

The genus Epimedium represents a group of herbaceous plants, with a distribution limited to Eurasia. In the area of their highest diversity, the Chinese mainland, several representatives of this genus have been used since ancient times for their medicinal properties. For example, E. sagittatum has been used as an aphrodisiac known as 'yin yang huo' since the Han dynasty. Furthermore, many Epimedium species are well known garden ornamentals. Despite their importance in horticulture and medicine, the Chinese species of Epimedium remain poorly understood. The last complete revision of the genus (Stearn, 2002) recognized 54 species. A large number of these described entities are present in the Ghent University Botanical Garden, including some unknown, yet to be described species. Previous research has pointed out that several recognised species can be seen as forming a morphological continuum. Furthermore, genetic variation in all tested markers is low, suggesting a recent divergence for all Chinese representatives of the genus Epimedium. The goal of this master thesis is to gain a better insight into species boundaries within the genus Epimedium. In a first step, one of the species complexes within the genus can be selected for more detailed research. This research will comprise searching for new morphological (e.g. SEM of leaves), chemical (e.g. medicinal secondary metabolites), and molecular (e.g. microsatellites) characters to gain insight into the diversity within the chosen species complex. On a larger scale, the same characters can be used to gain insight into the evolution of the Chinese representatives of Epimedium.
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Relevant publications:
Fiers J. (2014) Species delimitation in the genus Epimedium (Berberidaceae). MSc thesis, Ghent University, Belgium.

Researcher:
Jonas Fiers

Supervisors:
Prof. Dr. Paul Goetghebeur
Drs. Yannick De Smet

Funding:
Ghent University
Department of Biology
Research Group Spermatophytes
Ghent University Botanical Garden