From Sarawak to Scotland, cracking botanical codes
Popular as ornamentals and bedding plants the world over, the apparently humble Begonia might be deemed to hold few secrets. Yet, an international scientific taskforce intent on cracking the genetic codes of this most abundant group has been launched with ambitions of solving mysteries of global biodiversity.
With scientific research methods and partnerships advancing considerably since the turn of the century, significant new evidence is unfolding about the Begonia in its natural habitats. This is seen as a strong starting point for the new Begonia Phylogeny Group of experts from 18 countries set to tackle the challenges of understanding the sheer diversity of characteristics in this large and complex plant genus.
Introduced in the internationally recognised and open access academic journal Edinburgh Journal of Botany, the group’s formation is announced in a special edition focusing on Begonia. Featuring research papers by 61 authors from 21 countries it includes papers ranging from descriptions of species new to science, to characterisation of new methods for sequencing genetic diversity across the genus using synthetic probes or “baits”.
Dr Peter Wilkie, the Journal’s Editor-in-Chief explained: “Begonia is a large genus of more than 2000 species and collaborative research has significantly accelerated over the past two decades. With its pantropical distribution and amazing species diversity, recent developments have greatly improved our understanding of its genome evolution and tropical diversity. The time is right for the journal to publish a special issue highlighting these developments and international collaborations.
“Thanks to the work of Begoniaceae researchers in this special edition of the Journal, we now have the real and exciting possibility of revealing untold levels of information about evolutionary relationships between thousands of species.”
Advances in Begonia research are reflected in papers such as ADDITIONS TO THE BEGONIA FLORA OF SARAWAK, BORNEO, I: TWELVE NEW SPECIES AND A NEW RECORD by Malaysian taxonomists Julia Sang, R Kiew and CY Ling. This lays out a flavour of the enhanced understanding resulting from focused studies in a particular geographic region.
Ms Sang explained the significance of the journal and the formation of the new group: “Despite continuous exploration of forests in Borneo, the percentage of hyperendemic and rare species remains high among Begonia species. In the forests, more than one species of Begonia often coexist, but they usually occupy different microhabitats or elevations. Even species growing closely together have different growth habits and may possibly be reproductively isolated.
“A few species described here are very similar in vegetative characters to species previously described but are conspicuously different in reproductive characters. In such circumstances - and without meticulous observations and complete materials of flowers and fruits - these superficially appear to be the same species and can be wrongly identified or are often overlooked in the field. The publication of many new species of Begonia from Sarawak reflects our gradually expanding knowledge of the diversity and distribution of the genus in Borneo.”
Guest editors, Dr Mark Hughes and Dr Catherine Kidner concluded: “Begonia is the world’s fastest-growing genus and a focus of intense research. To support this, a stable and useful sectional classification is needed – the work by the Begonia Phylogeny Group will aim to provide this. By bringing a wide range of papers focused on Begonia together, we hope to inform and encourage further work. The Edinburgh Journal of Botany is an extremely suitable home for this research, being the institutional journal of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, which is a globally recognised centre for Begonia research.”
As a Diamond Open Access publication, the Edinburgh Journal of Botany Special Issue: Understanding Biodiversity in the Megadiverse Genus Begonia can be accessed online
For further information, interviews or images, please respond to this email or contact Shauna Hay on 07824 529 028 or Sandra Donnelly on 07312 128 637
Edinburgh Journal of Botany is published by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The journal provides global coverage of all groups of plants and fungi and is a particularly valued forum for research on South East and South West Asia, Sino-Himalaya and Brazilian biodiversity. The journal also publishes important work on European, Central American and African biodiversity and encourages submissions from around the world. Commissioned book reviews are also included.
All papers are peer reviewed and an international editorial board provides a body of expertise to reflect the wide range of work published and the geographical spread of the journal's authors and readers.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is a leading international research organisation delivering knowledge, education and plant conservation action around the world. In Scotland its four Gardens at Edinburgh, Benmore, Dawyck and Logan attract nearly a million visitors each year. It operates as a Non Departmental Public Body established under the National Heritage (Scotland) Act 1985, principally funded by the Scottish Government. It is also a registered charity, managed by a Board of Trustees appointed by Ministers. Its mission is “To explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future.”
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