Tropical Diversity

Plant species diversity is massively biased towards the tropics, for example the rainforests of Amazonia are thought to contain around 7,000 native tree species - more than 100 times the number in the UK. In addition, the value of tropical dry forests, grasslands and savannas is often under-appreciated in terms of biodiversity and ecosystem services. RBGE's Tropical team focuses on describing this mega-diversity, researching its evolution and drivers, and determining how best to conserve it.

The Team

Dr Mark Newman, Head of Section, Zingiberaceae Researcher

I'm a taxonomist using mainly the study of morphology within a framework of molecular systematics to describe plants in the Zingiberaceae, a family of over 50 genera and over 1,200 species including cardamom, ginger and turmeric. This work contributes to an inventory of the world's species which is far from complete. New species are being discovered in the Zingiberaceae every year and increasing numbers are threatened with extinction owing to habitat disturbance.

Read full bio
Dr Hannah Atkins, Gesneriaceae Researcher

Hannah Atkins is a researcher in the Tropical Diversity section interested in the taxonomy, evolution and biogeography of the SE Asian herbaceous flora.  She is currently working on Cyrtandra, the largest genus in the Gesneriaceae comprising over 800 species of rainforest herbs and shrubs.

Read full bio
Lucia Campos, PhD Candidate

I am a biologist interested in the molecular and genetic basis of plant diversity and evolution. For my PhD, I am using Begonias as a model to study the genomic factors driving plant speciation. Begonia is one of the five largest angiosperms genera, with approximately 2000 species described and more being discovered every year. One of the many interesting features about Begonias is their highly dynamic genomes: they show a wide range of both chromosome number and genome size, as well as very variable content of repetitive and transposable DNA in their genomes.

The aim of my project is elucidating the role of these genome dynamics in the high speciation rates found in Begonia. For this purpose, I use Next-Generation Sequencing data to study the genomic DNA from different Begonia species from different habitats in Africa, Asia and America and that are part of the RBGE living collection. I also study the genome of Begonia’s closest relative, Hillebrandia sandwicensis, a Hawaiian endemic species.

Read full bio
Yun-Yu Chen, Phd Candidate

Yun-Yu Chen is a PhD student from Taiwan interested in plant evolutionary development and bioinformatics.

He is currently working on the PhD project, the genomics studies on the Cape Primrose (Gesneriaceae). The Cape Primrose (genus Streptocarpus, Gesneriaceae)is a popular ornamental plants widely cultivated throughout Europe and Asia. This group of plants show extraordinary developmental patterns, including diversifying floral forms, the one leaf plant (unifoliate), and unequal development of cotyledon (anisocotyly). He is working on genetics and genomics basis for the Streptocarpus genus.


Read full bio
Axel Dalberg Poulsen, Zingiberaceae Researcher

Axel is a Research Associate in the Tropical Diversity Section and his work includes taxonomy, evolution, distribution patterns at all scales, ecology, and ethnobotany, especially of the family Zingiberaceae (gingers) of which he is the leading expert on the genus Etlingera. His research output includes contributions to regional floras based on a molecular phylogenetic framework and facilitates the conservation assessment of all ginger species using standard IUCN procedures.

Home page: (Opens in new window)

Dr Zoë Goodwin, South American Biodiversity Research Associate

I am tropical botanist specialising in the Neotropical flora, in particular I am interested in the savanna and dry forests of Central and South America.

Read full bio
Dr Mark Hughes, Begonia Researcher

My research focus is documenting and explaining the species richness in the mega-diverse genus Begonia. My research has two strands, one based on classical herbarium taxonomy and the other focusing on biogeography from regional to continental scales.

Read full bio
Dr Catherine Kidner, Reader in Plant Evolution

I am interested in the genetics underlying species-level variation in plants which I study through a combination of classical genetics and the application of high throughput sequencing data (genomics, transcriptomics, hybrid capture).  I am particularly interested in developing bioinformatic approaches using hybrid capture to recover genetic data from herbarium specimens.  My group works mainly on Begonia but I also work with a range of other tropical groups including Inga.

Read full bio
Thibauld Michel, PhD Candidate
Read full bio
Dr Michael Möller, Gesneriaceae Researcher

Dr Möller is an Evolutionary Botanist interested in unravelling evolutionary processes and the classification of plant species. He applies holistic approaches to taxonomy combining morphological and molecular data, whereby molecular phylogenetic frameworks are the cornerstone underpinning taxonomic decisions and modern classification systems. Dr Möller is also interested in linking phylogenies to infer morphological shifts and investigate the genetics underlying these developmental changes. His work focusses primarily, but not exclusively, on Old World Gesneriaceae.

Read full bio
Dr Peter Moonlight, South American Biodiversity Researcher

I am a Postdoctoral Scientist in the Tropical Biodiversity Section and specialise in the use of taxonomic data in answering large scale, macro-ecological questions. As a taxonomist, my main specialism is the Andean members of the megadiverse, understory herb genus Begonia (Begoniaceae) and I continues to describe new species and…

Read full bio
Dr Kanae Nishii, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Research Associate

Kanae Nishii has interests in evolutionary development and systematics in the family Gesneriaceae, in particular the genus Streptocarpus. KN holds research associateships in the Tropical Diversity section at RBGE and Kanagawa University in Japan, carrying out research in both institutes.

Read full bio
Sanna Olander, Conservation Assessment Officer

As a Conservation Assessment Officer at RBGE, I have the pleasure of combining my interests in botany and conservation. From January 2018 to March 2019, I am writing and facilitating IUCN Red List assessments or, in other words, assessing species risk of extinction. My focus is on two plant families as I spend two days a week working on Sapotaceae and three days on Zingiberaceae. IUCN Red List assessments are effective tools in guiding conservation efforts and prioritising areas where funds are most needed. As one of the most aknowledged ways of assessing species' conservation status, these assessments have the potential to persuade desision makers to protect taxa and reduce the loss of species diversity.

Read full bio
Prof Toby Pennington, South American Biodiversity Researcher

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 of relevance to conservation in a changing world.

For more details visit (opens in a new window)

Flávia Pezzini, PhD Candidate

Flávia Pezzini is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh/Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh. She is interested in the biogeographical history of the Neotropics, with a special focus on threatened Seasonally Dry Tropical Forest (SDTF). The focus of her PhD project is on one of the most conspicuous and charismatic trees of SDTF, Ceiba Mill. (Malvaceae, Bombacoideae). She is using molecular phylogenetic approaches based on targeted enrichment to generate a multi-locus, highly-supported, time-calibrated tree with multiple accessions to allow a much clear understanding of species boundaries and their diversification trajectories as well as into the biogeographic history of threatened SDTF.

Surabhi Ranavat, PhD Candidate

I am a PhD student based at the University of Edinburgh and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. In 2015, I completed my BS-MS dual degree from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal where I worked on the interspecific and intergeneric variation in the floral and pollination traits of Commelinaceae species with Dr Vinita Gowda. My PhD project is aimed at understanding the genetic diversity and reproductive trait evolution in the complex genus Alpinia (Zingiberaceae, the ginger family). My supervisors are Dr Alex Twyford (University of Edinburgh), Dr Mark Newman (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh), and Dr Vinita Gowda (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal), and I am funded by the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh.

Read full bio
Dr James Richardson, Tropical Biodiversity Researcher



Read full bio
Jess Rickenback, PhD candidate

I am a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. My research focuses on the ecology, biogeography, and evolutionary history of high rainfall savannas.

Read full bio
Dr Louis Ronse De Craene, Director of the MSc course

Dr Louis Ronse De Craene (Doctorate Leuven, Belgium 1992) is a botanist, working at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh since 2002 as Director of the MSc Course in the Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants.

Main Research interests

y main research interests are centered on floral morphology, the evolution of flowers,…

Read full bio
Dr Tiina Sarkinen, South American Biodiversity Researcher

I am a permanent biodiversity researcher in the Tropical Diversity section interested in the evolution, ecology and distribution of tropical biomes, and the taxonomy and systematics of the plant family Solanaceae.

I am currently working on the taxonomy and systematics of the Black nightshade clade of Solanum (Solanum section Solanum…

Read full bio
Madhavi Sreenath, PhD Candidate

PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh studying biogeography. 

Read full bio
Pakkapol Thaowetsuwan, PhD Candidate

I am a PhD student originally from Thailand with funding from the Development and Promotion of Science and Technology talents project (DPST) Scholarship, Royal Thai Government. My research concerns the diversity and evolution of flowers. Currently, I am doing a PhD thesis about floral diversity and evolution in Croton and related genera (Crotonoideae, Euphorbiaceae). Croton is the second largest genus in the Euphorbiaceae after Euphorbia. It has great diversity in floral structures especially in indumentum type, stamen number and style branching pattern. The aims of my thesis are to gain an understanding of developmental and genetic basis of the great floral diversity in this genus using morphological, anatomical and genetic methods, namely light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy and gene expression study. Floral structures from other genera in the tribe Crotoneae are also studied for a better understanding of floral diversity and evolution in Croton.

Read full bio
Dr Peter Wilkie, Sapotaceae Researcher

Peter Wilkie is a senior researcher in the Tropical Diversity Section. His main research focus is on the tropical trees of South East Asia, in particular, the family Sapotaceae.


Research aims:

  • Produce base-line taxonomic data of the poorly known tree diversity in Malesia
  • Produce and utilize large scale distributional data…
Read full bio
Hannah Wilson, PhD Candidate

My PhD research aims to identify the key factors driving rapid diversification of tropical plant species on New Guinea by placing the radiation of Begonia on the island (c.250 species) into geographic, genomic, environmental and temporal contexts. 

Read full bio