Abstract Proposal: OISE-1132916 PI/Institution: Weiblen, George D., University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Dr. George Weiblen from the University of Minnesota and Dr. Santiago MadriÃ±an from the Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia propose a new international collaboration to lay down the systematic foundations for studying the ecology and evolution of an important tropical tree,Cecropia,and its ant inhabitants. Specifically the PIs plan to apply a network analytical approach to quantify ant associations with plants across six Colombian bio-geographical regions where the diversity of Cecropia species is high. For each study site the PIs will develop an ant-plant association matrix to quantify the relative importance of ecological and evolutionary processes in assembling ecological communities.
The PIs are committed to including junior scientists in the proposed collaboration. In particular this project will give a US PhD student the opportunity to receive interdisciplinary training in systematics and ecology and be mentored by Colombian colleagues with expertise in phylogenetics, plant DNA analysis and ant ecology. Furthermore, the proposed collaboration where the PIs locate the molecular work in the same country where samples originate while sharing digital data, represents a new model for rapid systematic progress. This model addresses a requirement under the International Convention on Biodiversity which restricts material transfer in developing countries. Additionally, the PIs and the students will exchange information between Colombia and the US through the submission of DNA sequences to GenBank, scientific publications, and presentations at professional meetings.
Dr. George Weiblen from the University of Minnesota and Dr. Santiago Madriñan from the Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia formed a new international collaboration to investigate the ecology and evolution of Cecropia, an important group of rain forest trees for regeneration of American tropical forests. Cecropia is known for mutually beneficial associations with ants that nest inside of the plants and defend the foliage against herbivores. The project involved two-way student exchange, coordinated collecting of of plant and ant specimens, and DNA analysis of plants and ants. These activities were conducted to study evolutionary relationships among Cecropia species and to examine the species-specificity of Cecropia-ant associations. An American Ph.D. student and a Colombian M.Sc. student received interdisciplinary training in systematics and ecology. A novel aspect of the collaboration was performing DNA analysis in the same country where the samples originated while sharing digital data across borders. This model addresses a requirement under the International Convention on Biodiversity that restricts material transfer in developing countries. The project gathered and shared information between Colombia and the US including DNA sequences for publically available databases, presentations at professional meetings, and manuscripts in preparation. The main findings of the project were that (1) Cecropia-ant associations appear to be opportunistic and not as highly specialized as previously thought and (2) DNA sequencer divergence among Cecropia species is minimal and suggests that the species are of recent origin.