March 2016 to present, overarching research project funded by an international foundation for nature conservation

It is estimated that 20 % of all plant species worldwide are threatened with extinction. Taking into account the impacts of climate change and loss of habitats because of anthropogenic causes, the rate of plant extinctions is expected to increase rapidly. The proposed project focuses on threatened plant species, i.e. the Magnolias of the Caribbean and Mesoamerica, most of which are highly endemic and Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered according to recent assessments for the IUCN Red List. Additionally, nearly all these species are currently absent from ex situ collections anywhere in the world, and most of them are also not included in any in situ conservation actions. Few of them have been studied from a molecular point of view.

The focus area of the proposed project is the Caribbean, with approximately 13 native Magnolia species, and Mesoamerica, with about 55 species, hence two important diversity hotspots of the genus. Taking into account that the habitat of a significant number of these taxa is continuously declining because of deforestation and land use change, urgent conservation actions need to be taken. Since the advent of the research field of conservation genetics, efficient in situ and ex situ conservation management plans can be based on the results of genetic studies, which may serve as a basis for a better focused selection of individuals and populations with high remaining genetic diversity. The main aim of the proposed study is to trace the evolutionary and biogeographic history of the Caribbean and Mesoamerican Magnolia species, and apply conservation genetic studies on a selection of these species to inform and undertake specific conservation actions.

The core working group of the proposed project consists of an international team of Belgian, Cuban and Mexican botanists of which most participants have met two times during the last year to discuss collaboration and the set-up of the present proposal. This guarantees a productive and results-oriented cooperation which certainly will be strengthened by this project. Additionally, we have invited a Spanish botanist to our group, as he carried out the initial survey of conservation genetic studies in the genus Magnolia.

For more information about the PhD project concerning Caribbean Magnolias, click here.
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