Taxonomy and evolution of the Myristicaceae in the Neotropics

Fruit of a Virola tree

What does the phylogeny of the Neotropical Myristicaceae tell us about the evolution of its genera in the Amazon and about the diversity of the genus Virola Aublet? Among the six Neotropical genera, Virola has the widest  geographical range and the largest number of species, most of them in Amazonia.

Eleven species are classified as  hyperdominants in the Amazon forest and its importance is not only restricted to forest ecology, but also includes  cultural heritage and economy: a number of species have been used for centuries as hallucinogenic snuff by South  American indigenous people, while others are currently among the most exploited forest timber products, and  under pressure of selective logging. In order to understand the evolutionary history of this genus, we have to  reconstruct the phylogenetic relationship among species and to combine it with their morphological variation and  geographical distribution.

Supervisor 
Sylvia Mota de Oliveira 

Contact 
sylvia.motadeoliveira@naturalis.nl 

Period & duration 
10-12 weeks / 36-42 weeks 

Study & level 
BSc / MSc

Objectives & goals

BSc or MSc projects will be tailored according to the duration of the internship. The general goal is to help  elucidating the evolutionary history of Virola, by answering research questions about species delimitation, species  recognition, consistency between morphological and molecular data, and phylogenetic relationships. Possible  project goals include: 

∙ Selecting key morphological characters to distinguish species present in the Flora of the Guianas.

∙ Testing morphological species delimitation based on molecular data. 

∙ Identifying the origin of extra Amazonian Virola species – successive biome transitions from Amazonia to  other Brazilian Biomes?

Methods, tasks & approach

Research techniques include compilation of morphological and taxonomic data through literature surveys; study  of plant collections deposited in the Herbarium; analysis of Hyb-Seq data (existing or generated by the student);  construction of phylogenetic tree.

Requirements

Completion of the 2nd year Biology or similar studies; interest in phylogenetic research.