Recent research by the PI has addressed the evolutionary diversification of plants that have evolved and diversified first in South America, but have radiated into the northern hemisphere and to other continents. In particular, his recent work has helped understand the connection between arid land floras in South and North America in Verbenaceae, a family well represented in those regions. The research proposed here extends that work to the tropics by examining the diversification of the Lantana complex using molecular phylogenetic and niche-modeling methods. This study will permit testing of hypotheses concerning the importance of seed dispersal by animals to achieving geographic distributions observed today.
Understanding the evolution of biodiversity in space and time represents a global challenge that is met best by international collaboration. The PI will collaborate with scientists in several Latin American countries throughout the course of this research. These collaborations strengthen the ties between US research institutions and their counterparts, on which international cooperation and goodwill depend. The results obtained by the proposed research will serve as baseline data for understanding how species distributions change when climates change. With his position as a curator in the Burke Museum, the PI will develop exhibits to interpret this research, both in the museum and on-line, to the visiting public and school groups.