Diana Jolles and Jose Zúñiga, Claremont Graduate University botany doctoral candidates, have both received Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants (DDIG), a highly-competitive grant funded by the National Science Foundation.
Jolles’ DDIG grant supports her travels to the southern- and northern-most edges of the range of Pyrola picta (in the Ericaceae or Heath Family) to observe their natural history and collect specimens between June and August 2012. She will travel to the Sierra San Pedro Mártir in Baja California, the north coast of British Columbia, and the southeastern coast of Alaska. Collections will be used for genetic analyses, detailed morphological study and will be accessioned in the RSABG herbarium.
Zúñiga's DDIG grant supports his return trip to China to look for members of the flowering plant family Sabiaceae (with an emphasis on the genus Meliosma) that comprises three genera and about 150 species of trees and shrubs that are distributed throughout the Neotropics and Southeast Asia. His systematic and biogeographical study of this rather nondescript group of plants will address a topic that has not been subject to modern evolutionary research, and thus questions remain about the relationships among its members, as well as about the placement of the family among flowering plants. The main goal of Zúñiga's study is to generate a phylogenetic framework across taxonomic levels that will answer these questions and allow the study of other aspects of the biology of the group, such as biogeography and the evolution of reproductive characters.
This study will generate data that will improve our understanding of a recalcitrant region of the angiosperm tree of life, the basal eudicots (the eudicots are a group that comprises ~75 percent of all described angiosperms). Furthermore, this study will test biogeographic hypotheses that have been proposed for other groups of plants with similar disjunct distributions, and fossil-based dating will provide geological timeframes in which the divergence and evolution of the family took place.