The Evolution of Ohelo: A Phylogenomic Analysis of Hawaiian Vaccinium (Blueberries) and Their Relatives by Anna Becker

Vaccinium is a species rich (~500 sp.), widespread group of plants that includes important crops such as thVacciniume blueberry (V. corymbosum) and the cranberry (V. macrocarpon). Yet, the evolution and systematics of Vaccinium is still poorly understood, probably due to rampant hybridization and wide morphological variability, which have made species hard to diagnose. In the tropics, this group includes a multitude of lineages that may represent different species, although delimitations and relationships have so far been difficult to determine. Our goals include to investigate whether Ohelo’s diversity is the result of one vs. multiple independent dispersal events into Hawaii, followed by hybridization and/or introgression. Ohelo’s true diversity has been grossly underrepresented and may consists of many more species than what is currently described. A deeper insight into the evolution of Ohelo is likely to reveal cryptic diversity in need of protection. This study would potentially uncover interactions between selection and dispersal, elucidating more broadly how plant lineages move and establish in localities vastly different from the ancestor’s habitats. These studies are very timely as ecosystem destruction caused by climate change is displacing many plant species.


2020 American Society of Plant Taxonomists W. Hardy Eshbaugh Grant – $1500

2019 The Explorers Club Exploration Fund – $3000

2019 UF Biology Dept. Michael May Grad Student Fellowship – $300

2019 Florida Museum of Natural History Travel grant – $500