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Co-evolution in the fig-wasp model system: a phylogenetic approach


Figs (genus Ficus, Moraceae) constitute one of the largest flowering plant genera comprising ca. 750 species of trees occurring in most rainforests of the World. Figs are an important part of the biodiversity in the rainforest ecosystem by providing a critically important source of food for fruit eating animals throughout the year. Figs show an extreme species-specific mutualism with their pollinating wasps (family Agonidae). This plant-pollinator interaction is one of the best models for studying the comparative biology of mutualisms. An accurate evaluation of the patterns and processes of species diversification in a co-evolution system can only be performed if the phylogenies of both partners are known and can therefore be compared.

Previous molecular phylogenetic studies of the figs have shown that the traditional groups are not natural, but these studies have only limited sampling and have lacked the genetic variation to allow a detailed estimation of relationships in figs, especially at species level. T his knowledge is what is crucially needed to understand fig-wasp co-evolution and this project will fill this gap.

The project has three key aims:
(1) to produce a comprehensive phylogeny for the figs using molecular techniques (300 species),
(2) to study character evolution by mapping traits related to pollination system, dispersal system and life habit onto the phylogeny,
(3) to test for co-speciation by comparing the phylogeny of the figs with phylogenetic trees for the wasps.

The training during the out going phase will involve the morphological study and identification of figs in the herbarium and in the field, sequencing of new DNA regions and co-speciation analyses. The extensive molecular phylogenetic resources at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, combined with the expertise on fig co-evolution in Dr. Weiblens laboratory, University of Minnesota, form an ideal partnership for expanding the scope of the applicants research program.

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