CACTACEAE: A future for cacti?

October 2012 to May 2015, Postdoctoral research (BOF postdoctoral fellow grant), and continuation as collaborative research project

The highly endemic flora of the Chilean biodiversity hotspot is increasingly threatened by habitat loss due to anthropogenic causes and climate change. This study focuses on threatened cactus species of which the evolution and genetic diversity have not yet been studied using molecular approaches. Also, the genetic diversity of ex situ plant collections is undetermined and has been compared with diversity present in nature.

In this project, fundamental plant biodiversity research, conservation genetics and analyses of species distributions are applied to species of Copiapoa, Echinopsis, Eriosyce and Eulychnia. Molecular tools are used to delimit species and assess the genetic diversity at species and population level throughout their distribution range. The genetic diversity of ex situ collections is assessed and compared with the diversity present in wild populations. Priority populations for conservation will be identified, and we will test whether threatened species with narrow distribution are genetically depauperate. Current and future species distributions will be determined.

The scientific knowledge concerning genetic diversity at species and population level of these cacti will not only help to understand general patterns of evolution in the studied genera, but will also be of great value towards long-term in situ and ex situ conservation as we expect to be able to recommend specific conservation actions based on our results.
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Relevant publications:
Larridon I, Veltjen E, Semmouri I, Asselman P, Guerrero PC, Duarte M, Walter HE, Cisternas MA, Samain MS (submitted) Population genetics and 3D mapping support species boundaries and reveal high extinction risk of two endemic Chilean cactus species. Flora.
Ossa CG, Larridon I, Peralta G, Assselman P, Pérez F. (2016) Development of microsatellite markers using next-generation sequencing for the columnar cactus Echinopsis chiloensis (Cactaceae). Molecular Biology Reports 43: DOI: 10.1007/s11033-016-4069-9..
Larridon I, Walter HE, Guerrero PC, Duarte M, Cisternas MA, Peña Hernández C, Bauters K, Asselman P, Goetghebeur P, Samain MS. (2015) An integrative approach to understanding the evolution and biodiversity of Copiapoa (Cactaceae), a threatened genus from Chile’s Atacama Desert. American Journal of Botany 102 (9): 1506-1520.
Larridon I, Shaw K, Cisternas MA, Paizanni Guillén A, Sharrock S, Oldfield S, Goetghebeur P, Samain S. (2014) Is there a future for the Cactaceae genera Copiapoa, Eriosyce and Eulychnia? A status report of a prickly situation. Biodiversity and Conservation 23 (5): 1249-1287.
Samain MS, Cires E. (2012) Plants for the future – A future for our planet. Towards a protocol for genetic management of ex situ living plant collections. BG Journal 9 (1): 3-6. Click here to download a PDF of this article.

Principal investigator:
Prof. Dr. Isabel Larridon

Laboratory technicians:
Pieter Asselman
Viki Vandomme

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), UK

Jardin Botánico Nacional, Chile
Instituto de Ecología & Biodiversidad, Universidad de Chile, Chile
EXSIS Project: Ex-situ & in-situ Cactaceae Conservation Project, Santiago, Chile
Departamento de Botánica, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales & Oceanográficas, Universidad de Concepción, Chile

Instituto de Ecología (INECOL), Mexico

BOF (Special Research Fund) postdoctoral fellow grant (n° B/13089/19)

Research Foundation Flanders (international mobility grant - Chile)

King Léopold III Foundation for the Exploration and Protection of Nature (international mobility - Chile)

International Organisation for Succulent Plant Study (Molecular phylogenetic study of Eulychnia)

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

Fondation Franklinia

International Organization for Succulent Plant Study