Taxonomy of plants, fungi and algae
Our world-class collections contain a wealth of information on the diversity of plants, fungi and algae, and form the basis for our taxonomic research. This taxonomic research is both necessary and important, especially in the face of the current biodiversity crisis, which makes the inventory of global biodiversity more pressing than ever.
Our taxonomic research of vascular plants centers on a number of species-rich families and orders, including the species rich coffee family (Rubiaceae), balsam family (Balsaminaceae), grasses (Poaceae), and the order Malvales, with a strong focus on tropical Africa. Our mycologists investigate diverse groups of Fungi, lichens and lichenicolous fungi from tropical to arctic regions. Phycological research focuses on diatoms from the tropics to Antarctica, as well as seaweeds. Our large collection of myxomycetes forms the basis for taxonomic studies of this cryptic group of protists.
Our researchers embrace modern techniques such as scanning electron microscopy, and molecular techniques to complement morphology-based taxonomy. DNA sequences are an essential source of data in systematic studies at all levels of biodiversity. Gene data contain vital information regarding the speciation process, and hence DNA sequences are being used for species identification, discovery, and delimitation. At higher taxonomic levels, genes and genomes are invaluable sources of data for inferring phylogenies and revising classifications.
Our taxonomic research results in more reliable estimates of plant biodiversity and classifications that reflect evolutionary relationships.
Meise Botanic Garden has a long research tradition in the family Rubiaceae. With more than 13.000 species and 620 genera, Rubiaceae are the fourth largest family in the flowering plants. They occur on all continents, occupy a large range of ecological niches from desert to evergreen humid forests and from sea level to high altitudes. In Europe, we know Rubiaceae as small herbs, but most species are tropical or subtropical woody shrubs and trees. While Rubiaceae are easily recognized at family level (opposite, entire leaves; presence of stipules; inferior ovary), they are very variable in the structure, shape, and size of flowers and fruits, which have adapted to different pollinators and dispersers. The Rubiaceae contain economically valuable genera such Cinchona (quinine), the decorative Ixora and Gardenia and, of course, Coffea (coffee), which is the world’s most heavily traded commodity after oil, in terms of monetary value, and supports at least 20 million coffee farming families in more than 50 countries. Furthermore, a number of woody representatives of the Rubiaceae are exceptional bio-indicators of forest condition and biodiversity.
Researchers of the Meise Botanic Garden undertake monographic work at genus level (e.g., tribes Pavetteae, Psychotrieae), floristic work (Flora of Central Africa) and, using morphological and molecular phylogenetic methods, try to elucidate the evolutionary history of certain Rubiaceae taxa, their biogeography and the evolution of their morphological characters. There is a special focus on the genus Coffea.
For more information visit the pages of Petra De Block, Olivier Lachenaud, and Piet Stoffelen.
Balsaminaceae is a remarkable plant family, which consists of only two genera, the monospecific genus Hydrocera and the species-rich genus Impatiens. The latter genus is among the largest genera of flowering plants with over 1000 species. Diversity hotspots for the genus are tropical Africa, the Himalayan region, Madagascar, South India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia, with balsams being a characteristic element of tropical and subtropical montane forests above 500–800 m, even sometimes growing as high as 5000 m. Despite some exceptions, the majority of the Impatiens species are typically confined to stream margins, waterside boulders, and wet and/or montane forests. One of the most striking features of the genus is its huge floral morphological diversity that highly contrasts with a very uniform vegetative morphology. Due to the large floral variation, it has always been very difficult in the past to divide the genus into natural groupings using only morphological data. Researchers of the Botanic Garden aim to unravel the complex evolutionary patterns that shaped the current diversity of Impatiens species throughout the world using a complementary approach of populations genetics, molecular phylogenetics, morphology and pollination biology.
For more information visit the research page of Steven Janssens
Grasses provide a substantial amount of the worlds nutrition and are very important elements of animal nutrition as well as a suite of natural vegetations. Grasses are, however, not easily identified to the species, but their reliable identification is often crucial to investigators of various nature. Meise Botanic Garden contributes to this need by providing a treatment of all c. 750 species of grass occurring in Central Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi). The work will be published in the Flore d’Afrique centrale series and is coordinated by Marc Sosef . Researchers from The Netherlands, the United States and Argentina are collaborating to achieve this goal.
Malvales is a large plant order which consists of 10 families, including about 330 genera and 6000 species. This group is mainly distributed in tropical regions and several taxa constitutes important ecological components of wet and dry tropical forests (e.g., Dipterocarpaceae, Malvaceae and Sarcolaenaceae). Malvales includes species with great economic importance such as Gossypium spp (cotton), Theobroma cacao (cocoa), and Durio zibethinus (Durian fruit). Yet, the taxonomy and evolutionary history of families in the order remain poorly documented.
Researchers of the Meise Botanic Garden aim to resolve phylogenetic relationships using novel molecular approaches (target capture, NGS, phylogenomics), and revise the systematics of Malvales. Within this order, we specifically focus on the taxonomy and evolution of several families such as Malvaceae (Cocoa family), the parasitic Cytinaceae, and Sarcolaenaceae.
For more information visit the research page of Timothée Le Péchon.
The woodsorrels (Oxalis) are one of the weediest of genera. Although Europe has only one native species more than twenty have naturalised here. Many have attractive flowers and were originally introduced to decorate gardens. Several come from South Africa, such as the infamous Oxalis pes-caprae, that every spring paints fields and orchards around the Mediterranean in yellow. There are others from South and Central America with pink flowers that are extremely difficult to eradicate due to their persistent bulbs.
Our research at the Garden aims to improve knowledge on this genus, but also what this genus tells us about species invasions in general. We have been researching various aspects of their biology, such as how they are spread by human activity, but also their biogeography and taxonomy. A long term output of our Oxalis group is to write a guide to the Oxalis of Europe to help people identify these species.
For more information visit the research page of Quentin Groom.
Meise Botanic Garden has a long tradition of mycological research. This research has focussed mainly on fungal diversity in Africa. In order to better understand biodiversity and improve the comprehension of the evolutionary relationships of these organisms, we revisit and compare (on the basis of morphological, molecular, ecological and biogeographical data) historical type collections with recent material from our field expeditions. We focus mainly on ectomycorrhizal taxa (Boletales, Cantharellales, Amanitaceae), but also saprotrophs (Agaricales, Polyporales, Hymenochaetales) and parasites/phytopathogenic fungi (Polyporales, Hymenochaetales, Agaricales, Laboulbeniales).
Research in lichenology focuses on the taxonomy of different groups of lichenized and lichenicolous fungi, mainly of the Arthoniomycetes and Dothideomycetes. Phylogenetic analyses are implemented to study the transitions between different life strategies (e.g. lichenized, parasitic, saprotrophic) that occured during the evolution of these fungi. Families such as the Arthoniaceae and Lecanographaceae are of particular interest, having the broadest array of biological lifestyles among Ascomycota. The phylogenetic position of anamorphic taxa and their relations with teleomorphs are also underway. Inventory of lichens from diverse tropical regions (mainly Africa and islands of the Southwestern Indian Ocean) and from the French sub-Antarctic islands (Amsterdam, Crozet and Kerguelen) are in progress. Ecological studies to evaluate the impact of air pollution and forest management in Belgium are undertaken.
Algae are ubiquitous in oceans, freshwater bodies and terrestrial environments. They include a multitude of species ranging from microscopic unicells to giant kelps, and belong to diverse and often unrelated evolutionary lineages. Meise Botanic Garden has a long tradition of taxonomic research in freshwater microalgae, in particular diatoms from Europe, the Antarctic region, and central Africa. Research focuses on freshwater systems, but also marine diatoms are being studied.
Other algal groups under study include green, red and brown algae. Researchers of Meise Botanic Garden focus particularly on the taxonomy of ulvophycean green algae, a species-rich and morphologically and ecologically diverse group of green algae that abound in marine and freshwater environments. Species diversity is poorly documented, especially in tropical regions. We aim to further document this diversity, test species boundaries and resolve relationships based on morphological and molecular data obtained from new and historic collections. These data form the basis for biogeographical and evolutionary studies of diatoms and seaweeds.
Also known as myxomycetes or slime moulds are a monophyletic group of about one thousand species of free living, non-pathogenic amoebae. Many of the species produce macroscopic fruiting bodies that were mistaken for fungi hens the “-mycetes” and “moulds” part of their name. Traditionally they were studied by mycologists, this is also why they are part of the collection and research of Meise Botanic Garden. In fact the study of myxomycetes has a long tradition in our institute, and with about 34000 herbarium specimens, including 248 types, our herbarium holds one of the largest collections of myxomycetes in the world. Currently our research focuses on the myxomycetes of Western Europe and Africa.
For more information visit the research page of Myriam de Haan