Daisies in the Indian Ocean: phylogenetics and biogeography of Asteraceae species (Mascarenes islands)

Daisies in the Indian Ocean

Background and context

Asteraceae (daisy family) is the plant family with the highest number of endemic species and radiations on oceanic islands. Why is this group so diverse? This project will review the phylogenetic and biogeographical history of the 84 native species of Asteraceae from the Mascarene islands (Mauritius, La Réunion, Rodrigues). The main goal will be to identify the closest relatives of the native Mascarenes species based on phylogenetic and taxonomic information, to be able to determine the pattern of colonisation of the Mascarenes. Literature review will be conducted, as well as phylogenetic and statistical analyses. The student will also work with herbarium specimens at Naturalis. There will be the possibility to conduct molecular lab work to produce new molecular data for phylogenies, depending on the interests of the student. No fieldwork, sorry!

Objectives and goals

  • Review and compile phylogenetic data for Asteraceae species of the Mascarenes.
  • Identify biogeographical sources of origin of Mascarenes species (e.g. do the closest relatives live in Madagascar, Africa, Asia or other Indian Ocean islands?)
  • Review the taxonomy and classification (e.g. endemic or non-endemic) of native Asteraceae from Mauritius, Rodrigues and La Réunion.
  • Reconstruct phylogenies for selected Mascarene Asteraceae genera.

Methods, tasks and approach

  • Literature surveys of existing botanical, phylogenetic and taxonomic data from Mascarenes.
  • Compile all phylogenetic evidence from Mascarenes Asteraceae.
  • Genbank surveys and phylogenetic tree-building and manipulation.
  • Optional: DNA from existing leaf samples and sequences genes for phylogenetic analyses.


Interest in plant evolution and island biogeography. Willingness to conduct literature surveys and learn phylogenetic analyses. If the student opts to do molecular lab work, an interest in learning molecular techniques is essential. 


Thébaud CH, Warren BH, Strasberg D, Cheke AN. Mascarene islands, biology. Atoll Research Bulletin. 2009;127:1-216 http://dodobooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Thebaud-etal-2009-Enc.Islands-chap.pdf   


Dr. Luis Valente (Naturalis) and Lizzie Roeble (PhD student, Naturalis)



Period and duration

Ca. 6 months, start date flexible.

Study and level

BSc or MSc project