Toby Pennington

Toby PenningtonEmail: Toby Pennington

Phone: +44 (0)131 248 2818

Fax: +44 (0)131 248 2901

My research has aimed to address one of the fundamental questions of tropical biology – how and when did the huge species numbers in the tropics arise? It is grounded in fundamental, descriptive taxonomic, inventory and phylogenetic research, which provides the foundation to address evolutionary and biogeographic questions.

Taxonomy

Most taxonomic research has concentrated upon Leguminosae, the third largest angiosperm family, which has a global distribution and high ecological and economic importance. I am taking a leading role in the recently formed Legume Phylogeny Working Group (LPWG) that aims to develop collaborative research towards a comprehensive phylogeny and classification for legumes.

Floristic inventory and conservation of neotropical dry biomes

An International Network grant from the Leverhulme Trust to the RBGE has brought together leading workers in floristics of seasonally dry tropical forests (SDTF) from Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina in a partnership that is necessary to develop the first comprehensive dataset of the flora of neotropical SDTF across their full range. The Network aims to improve communication and collaboration between research organisations studying SDTF and governmental and non-governmental organisations responsible for the protection and management of these endangered forests. Biogeographic analyses of the new floristic dataset will pinpoint areas of high species diversity and endemism that are an essential basis to coherent international and national conservation strategies.

See elmer.rbge.org.uk/dryflor for full details, and watch our animated film that aims to increase awareness of dry forests.

RBGE has also recently won a grant from the Research Council UK - Brazil (CONFAP) Newton Fund: “Dry forest biomes in Brazil: biodiversity and ecosystem services”. This aims to develop UK leadership in monitoring of biodiversity, carbon stock, carbon balance and tree mortality in Latin America beyond rain forests and into dry biomes.

Phylogeny and biogeography

(a)          Niche evolution of South American trees and its application to conservation

RBGE is leading a NERC Standard Grant in partnership with ecologists at the University of Leeds that takes advantage of tree inventories (many by RBGE scientists), covering more than 1000 sites in three major biomes in South America: rain forests, SDTF and savannas.  We are investigating how many times lineages of trees have switched between the different biomes, which will deliver important knowledge for future studies of evolutionary diversification and especially conservation. If lineages have rarely switched between biomes, then each biome will contain a distinct subset of evolutionary diversity, and destruction of a single biome could wipe out an entire part of evolutionary history. Such scenarios of the destruction of an entire biome are not unlikely for the highly threatened savannas and SDTF.

(b)          Tropical rain forest diversification

A focus genus for my research on diversification in tropical rain forests over the past decade has been Inga (Leguminosae), which is species-rich (300 spp.), widely distributed, and has consistently high local abundance and species diversity. It therefore provides an ideal system to investigate the origin and maintenance of tropical diversity.

Work on Inga is supported by a US NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity grant (2012-2017) lead by the University of Utah in which RBGE is a key collaborator alongside Prof. Graham Stone, University of Edinburgh. We are also supported by a BBSRC Syntax grant. Our work addresses how plant defences against herbivores have evolved and how have they influenced species radiations in the tropics. This project also offers RBGE an excellent opportunity to develop expertise in the application of next-generation sequencing to front-line tropical biodiversity problems – for example whether species delimited using traditional morphological taxonomic approaches contain biologically significant but cryptic diversity.

Other duties

I am Head of the Tropical Diversity section at RBGE and a Visiting Professor at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh. I have served on the Natural Environment Research Council, Peer Review College (2008-2011) and have evaluated grants for Biology for the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation (2012 - 2015). I attend the University of Edinburgh/RBGE MSc in Plant Taxonomy and Biodiversity steering committee. I teach Phylogenetics, Plant Geography and Leguminosae to MSc and undergraduate students at the University of Edinburgh.

Current research group

Researchers (core funded RBGE staff not listed)

Dr Danilo Neves (NERC-funded Postdoctoral Research Assistant): Niche evolution of South American trees and its consequences

Dr James Nicholls (US-NSF funded Postdoctoral Research Assistant): NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity: “Dimensions: Coexistence, herbivore host choice, and plant-herbivore evolution in the recently radiated and speciose Neotropical tree genus, Inga

Ms Julia Weintritt (Leverhulme Trust): Floristic inventory and conservation of neotropical dry forests (network facilitator for Leverhulme-funded DRYFLOR International Network)

Ms Alexandra Clark (NERC-funded technician): Niche evolution of South American trees and its consequences

Sabbatical visitors

Prof Anne Bruneau, University of Montreal (Director of Science Montreal Botanical Garden; July 2015 – Jan 2016)

Dr Colin Hughes, University of Zurich (July 2015-Sept 2015)

Prof Ary Oliveira-Filho, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (June 2015 – Sept 2015)

PhD students

Flávia Pezzini. University of Edinburgh (2015-2018)
Systematics and biogeography of Ceiba (Malvaceae-Bombacoideae)
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, Catherine Kidner

Maria Kaye. University Aberdeen (2013-2015).
Investigating the role of functional traits in tropical tree assembly determined by phylogenetic reconstruction using DNA bar-coding
Supervisors: David Burslem (Aberdeen), Toby Pennington, Pete Hollingsworth

Karina Banda, University of Edinburgh (2013-2016)
Phytogeography and conservation of the Colombian dry forest
Supervisors: Toby Pnnington, Kyle Dexter (University Of Edinburgh [UoE])

Roosevelt García, University of Edinburgh (2011-2014).
Biogeography of the white sand forests of the Amazon
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, James Richardson, Kyle Dexter (UoE)

María-Camila Gómez, University of Edinburgh (2010-2014)
Evolution of the Páramo flora
Supervisors: James Richardson, Richard Milne (UoE), Toby Pennington

MSc students

Victoria Cabrera, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with K. Dexter: 2015)

Alumni

PhD students

Renata Francoso, Universidade de Brasilia (2013)
Phytogeography of the Brazilian cerrados (2013)
Six month sandwich visit funded by Brazilian government (CAPES)
 
Lidiany Carvalho, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
Monodominant forests of Amazonia
Four month sandwich visit funded by Brazilian government (CAPES)
 
Liliane Dantas, Universidade Federal do Pernambuco (2013)
Phylogeography of the Brazilian cerrados
Four month sandwich visit funded by Brazilian government (CAPES)
 
Danilo Neves, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil (2011-2012)
Phenology, structure, dynamics and floristic patterns of the vegetation of the southern Pantanal
One year sandwich visit funded by Brazilian government (CAPES)
 
Marcelo Bueno, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil (2011-2012)
Phytogeographic patterns of the central Brazilian tree flora
One year sandwich visit funded by Brazilian government (CAPES)
 
Vanessa Pontara, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil (2011-2012)
Dynamics, growth and recruitment of Dalbergia nigra (Vellozo) Freire Allemão ex Bentham.
One year sandwich visit funded by Brazilian government (CAPES)
 
Oswaldo Cruz Neto, Universidade Federal do Pernambuco (2012)
Reproductive success of Inga vera Willd. (Fabaceae) in the Brazilian northeastern Atlantic forest
Six month sandwich visit funded by Brazilian government (CAPES)
 
Roosevelt García, University of Edinburgh (2011-2014).
Biogeography of the white sand forests of the Amazon
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, James Richardson, Kyle Dexter (UoE)
 
Joao Iganci, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (2009-2010)
Systematics and biogeography of Adesmia
Six month sandwich visit funded by Brazilian government (CAPES)
 
Euridice Honorio, University of Leeds (2009-2012)
Integrating ecological and molecular information of widespread species in western Amazonia
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, Oliver Phillips, Simon Lewis (University of Leeds)

Faten Filimban, University of Edinburgh (2009-2012)
Systematics and biogeography of Senna (Leguminosae) in Arabia.
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, Barbara MacKinder, Sabina Knees

Paulina Hechenleitner, University of Aberdeen (2009-2014).
Systematics and biogeography of neotropical Vicia (Leguminosae)
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, David Burslem (University of Aberdeen), Gwilym Lewis (RBG Kew)
 
Macarena Cardenas, Dept. Earth and Environmental Sciences, Open University (2007-2010)
Climate change impacts on hyper-diverse Amazonian ecosystems
Supervisors: William Gosling, Sarah Sherlock, Vincent Gauci (Open University), Imogen Poole (University of Utrecht), Toby Pennington

Katherine Fitzpatrick, Dept. Geography, University of Edinburgh (2007-2010). 
Multi-proxy based Late Quaternary environmental reconstruction in lowland tropical South America.
Supervisors: Francis Mayle (UoE), Toby Pennington.
 
Tiina Sarkinen, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford (2006-2009).
Systematics of Amicia (Leguminosae) and plant diversification in the Andes.
Supervisors: Colin Hughes, John Pannell (University of Oxford), Toby Pennington
 
Bhaskar Adhikari, University of Edinburgh (2006-2009).
Investigating the evolution of large genera: how did Berberis speciate in Nepal?
Supervisors: Richard Milne (UoE), Colin Pendry, Toby Pennington
 
Bronwen Whitney, Dept. Geography, University of Edinburgh (2006-2009).
Palaeoecology of the Pantanal: Late Quaternary vegetation and climate change in Eastern Bolivia.
Supervisors: Francis Mayle (UoE), Toby Pennington
 
Huw Jones Dept. Geography, University of Edinburgh (2006-2009).
Characterisation of neotropical savanna ecosystems by their modern pollen rain.
Supervisors: Francis Mayle (UoE), Jim Ratter, Toby Pennington

Sofia Caetano, University of Geneva (2003-2007).
South American seasonally dry tropical forests: are they current refugia or the result of long distance dispersal?
Supervisors: Yamama Naciri, Rodolphe Spichiger (Geneva), Toby Pennington

Greg Kenicer, ICMB, University of Edinburgh (2002-2005).
Systematics and biogeography of Lathyrus section Orobus (Leguminosae).
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, Quentin Cronk, Mark Watson
 
Nazre Saleh, ICMB, University of Edinburgh (2002-2005).
Systematics of Garcinia section Garcinia (Guttiferae).
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, Mark Newman
 
Gemma Bramley, ICMB, University of Edinburgh (2001-2003).
Local, regional and monographic approaches to Cyrtandra (Gesneriaceae).
Supervisors: Quentin Cronk, Mary Mendum, Toby Pennington
 
Barbara MacKinder, ICMB, University of Edinburgh (2001-2006).
Systematics and biogeography of Berlinia (Leguminosae – Caesalpinioideae)
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, David Harris

Helene Citerne, ICMB, University of Edinburgh (2001-2004).
Examination of cyc-like genes in the Leguminosae.
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, Quentin Cronk, Enrico Coen (John Innes Institute)
 
Peter Wilkie, University of Aberdeen (2000-2005).
Systematics of Asian Sterculiaceae.
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, Chris Wilcock (University of Aberdeen)

Elizabeth Moylan, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford (1998-2001).
Systematics of Hemigraphis (Acanthaceae).
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, Robert Scotland (University of Oxford), Paula Rudall (RBG Kew)
 
Helen Ireland, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Reading (1997-2000).
Systematics of Ateleia and Cyathostegia (Leguminosae-Swartzieae).
Supervisors: Toby Pennington, Brian Schrire (RBG Kew), Frank Bisby (University of Reading)

MSc students

Vanezza Morales, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with C. Lehmann: 2014)
 
Bryony Smart, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with K. Dexter: 2013)
 
Loic Cecilio, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with J. Richardson and K. Dexter: 2011)
 
Cathy King, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with T. Sarkinen: 2009)
 
Sarah Cody, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with J. Richardson: 2008)
 
Euridice Honorio, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with S. Bridgewater: 2006)
 
Tiina Sarkinen, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with M. Newman: 2005)
 
Rhonda Ridley, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with G. Kenicer: 2004)
 
James Tosh, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with D. Harris: 2004)
 
Anton Russell, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with M. Hollingsworth: 2004)
 
Joshua Clayton, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with V. Plana: 2003)
 
Cynthia Skema, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (2003)
 
Reynaldo Linares Palomino, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with S. Bridgewater: 2002)
 
Simon Queenborough, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with S. Bridgewater and P. Wilkie: 2001)
 
Michael Pirie, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with B. Klitgaard, RBG Kew and C. Pendry: 2000)
 
Helen Cortes Burns, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with B. Schrire, RBG Kew and A. Miller: 2000)
 
Shirin Rezai, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with C. Pendry: 2000)
 
Richard Howarth, University of Edinburgh MSc (by research), Department of Geography, University of Edinburgh (with Colin Pendry and Peter Furley, University of Edinburgh,1998-1999)
 
Barbara MacKinder, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with G. Lewis, RBG Kew; 1999)
 
Freya Cooper, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with S. Bridgewater: 1998)
 
Josephine Welsh, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with R. Bateman and Q. Cronk: 1997)
 
Andrew Bell, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with C. Alexander and S. Spongberg, Arnold Arboretum: 1996)

Helen Ireland, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (with B.D. Schrire, RBG Kew: 1996)
 
Carlota Quilambo, University of Reading MSc student (with D. Cutler and C.H. Stirton, RBG Kew: 1996)
 
Birgit Gemeinholzer, University of Edinburgh and RBGE MSc student (1995)

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