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An experimental approach to the systematics of the diatom Pinnularia


Among plants, diatoms are the second only to the flowering plants in terms of their biodiversity (c. 200,000 species) and their contribution to global photosynthetic productivity (c. 20% of the total annually). They are also the most important organisms fo r studying changes in water quality and aquatic conditions over time-scales of months to millions of years. Diatom taxonomy, however, is relatively primitive. During the last 30 years, species concepts have changed, from narrow to broad definitions and the n back to narrow ones, with accompanying confusing changes in nomenclature.
The reasons for these changes have not been tested and it is not clear that the newest classification is the best. As consequence several incompatible classifications are in use, compromising ecological and other applied studies. Therefore, the main objectives of this project are to test the diatom species concept using the genus Pinnularia as a study model and to establish a secure taxonomy for Pinnularia.
The genus inhabits mostly freshwater and reaches its maximum diversity in low electrolyte waters that are highly sensitive to environmental disturbance, thus it is a worthwhile subject of research. The objectives will be achieved by using recently developed mating protocols to investigate reproductive isolation; by complementing this with molecular genetic studies using appropriate markers (rbcL and ITS rDNA sequence analysis); and by testing agreement between morphology, molecular data and mating experiments.
Therefore, the project and its objectives are relevant to the Specific Programme: III.1.1 and III.2.1. Working at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh will provide advanced training in experimental culture techniques, the reproductive biology of diatoms and molecular methods i n a close-knit institute with specialists in all appropriate fields. The project will be also an opportunity to develop new lines and methods of research and to strengthen writing and communication skills.

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