Mayombe forest, Republic of Congo

Tropical Rain Forest Biodiversity and Evolution group


My main research focus is on tropical rain forest (TRF) biodiversity, evolution and diversification.

How did the huge diversity of species in TRF evolve? What are the evolutionary processes that have affected this diversity through time? How did this extremely rich diversity react to past changes in climate? How have potential TRF refuges during ice ages affected the distribution and genetic diversity dynamics of TRF species? What can these results tell us about how TRFs will respond to ongoing and future climate changes? 

I concentrate on several time frames ranging from ancient processes (tens of millions of years ago) to more recent ones (millions of years ago or thousands of years ago). This wide time frame enables me to use alternative methods for understanding evolutionary processes from molecular phylogenetics (between genera and species) to phylogeography and genetic diversity dynamics of selected species (within species or closely related species).

Besides constructing molecular phylogenies I use integrative methods to addresses hypotheses about TRF evolution. These methods include molecular dating, ancestral area reconstructions (biogeography), diversification rate analyses, ancestral character reconstruction (morphology or biomes) and ecological niche modeling (using GIS). I am also interested in integrating ecology and pollination biology into the study of diversification and speciation.

3D representation of selected Annonaceae species in Central Africa (done by V; Deblauwe)
3D representation of selected Annonaceae species in Central Africa (done by: V Deblauwe)

I am active in taxonomical research in two wonderful plant families characteristic of TRF: Palms and Annonaceae. I undertake monographs and revisions of several little known genera in both families. I also plan to write floras for both families for different countries. I work in herbaria and undertake field work for collecting plants in South America, Africa and South East Asia. This last part is the basis of my research. Without taxonomy the above research projects would be hampered.

Finally, I use the internet and special tools available to disseminate and make this information available to everyone (open access journals, scratchpad websites (see World Annonaceae and Palms of Africa websites).

Attalea in Brazil, Amazon