Applying phylogenomics to tree seed science to enhance tree conservation strategies
Generating phylogenomic data for tree genera to investigate seed trait behaviour and evolutionary processes, underpinning tree conservation in SE Asia.
A key element of Kew’s conservation work is to establish the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) as the global repository for tree seeds – the Global Tree Seed Bank – vital in the fight to conserve the increasing number of threatened trees globally. The MSB currently holds seeds from around 11,000 tree and shrub species – more than any other seed bank in the world. The establishment of the Global Tree Seed Bank is facilitated by generous funding from the Garfield Weston Foundation which will enable a further 3,000 tree species to be banked.
This project arises out of the recognition that one of the most effective approaches to accelerating the Global Tree Seed Bank Project is to address key knowledge gaps related to tree conservation. One such gap, addressed here, relates to our understanding of (i) the role that genomic processes play in underpinning the evolution of tree seed traits and (ii) how these seed traits in turn, impact on the evolution, diversification and resilience of tree species.
This knowledge gap is addressed through two interlinked research projects:
A) Establishing a genomic library for South-East Asian trees for biodiversity analysis, conservation and authentication (DNA barcoding)
The research will generate new genomic data for SE Asian trees. These will have practical applications, e.g. as a foundation for genetic authentication and regulation of important timber species in trade. The novel data will also enable robust biodiversity research on SE Asian trees, leading to a fuller understanding of the origins of SE Asian tree biodiversity and the threats that it faces over different timescales.
B) Evolution and diversification of a “recalcitrant” tree family (palms; Arecaceae) in the Asia-Pacific
This focuses on palms, which are among the most economically important of all plants and, as a result, face intensified threats due to selective use by humans. Palms are highly biodiverse in the Asia-Pacific region, especially tribe Areceae, with >1000 species occurring between Malaysia and New Guinea alone, and numerous island endemics. Unfortunately, palm seeds are difficult to store, with many species known to be recalcitrant. This research will enable a family-wide synthesis of palm seed trait data within an evolutionary framework to facilitate advances in the conservation of this family.
Both projects take advantage of the rapid progress in high throughput DNA sequencing technologies to provide unprecedented amounts of novel genomic data including hundreds of low-copy nuclear genes, whole plastomes, mitochondria and nuclear repeats.
- Generate genomic data for genera of SE Asian trees and palms
- Reconstruct phylogenetic relationships of SE Asian trees and explore patterns and timescale of evolution
- Investigate seed traits in palms using a phylogenetic framework and drawing on Kew’s long-term work on palm seed biology, extensive palm collections and trait datasets
- Protocols and pipelines established for production of large-scale genomic data
- New trait-based insights into extinction risk of island plants, extending species conservation thinking and informing conservation planning
- Contribution to establishing a genomic reference collection for timber authentication.
- University of Georgia, USA
- University of Florida, USA
- Chicago Botanic Garden
- Florida Museum of Natural History, USA