Character Evolution

Exploring genomic, physiological, phenotypic and ecological traits to understand the drivers and processes underpinning global plant and fungal diversity.


Team lead: Dr Ilia Leitch

Our team studies a wide diversity of traits in different plant groups to understand the drivers and processes underpinning global plant and fungal diversity and distribution.

We explore:

  • How different traits interact and evolve to generate plant and fungal diversity and impact their distribution across the globe 
  • How key traits can influence, or are influenced by, evolutionary and ecosystem processes

This allows us to predict how plants and fungi adapt and survive in different environments and hence their resilience to global environmental change.

At the genomic level we look at characters such as genome size, chromosome organisation, DNA repeats and polyploidy to understand the origin, evolution and biological significance of their immense diversity of genomic characters across land plants. 

We also study a diversity of morphological, anatomical and ecological traits including those associated with seed morphology, leaf shape and flower development and plant community structure.

All our work takes advantage of advances in molecular cytogenetics and high-resolution microscopy, together with high throughput sequencing, to explore genomes from a phylogenomic perspective. This enables us to apply model-based approaches to trace the evolution of traits over evolutionary timescales and across a range of spatial scales, to shed light on the evolutionary dynamics of key traits associated with plant radiations, ecological success and resilience to environmental change. 

While our research includes studies on many diverse lineages, current focal groups include: grasses (Poaceae), palms (Arecaceae), daisies (Asteraceae), beans (Fabaceae) and some monocot families (Liliaceae, especially Fritillaria and Melanthiaceae especially Paris and Trillium). 

Team members

Assistant head of Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology
Dr Ilia Leitch

Research leader
Dr Jaume Pellicer

Career development fellow
Dr Gerhard Prenner

Early career development fellows
Dr Sidonie Bellot
Dr Jan Hackel

Phylogenomics research fellow
Dr Lisa Pokorny

Visiting researcher
Professor Jonathan Wendel

Honorary research associates
Professor Richard Bateman
Dr Oriane Hidalgo

Honorary research fellows
Professor Michael David Bennett
Peter Brandham

PhD students
Marie Henniges
Luca Pecarago



More projects

  • Impact of forest degradation on plant and fungal diversity and distribution in southern Patagonia: increasing awareness and preserving endemic species.