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resolving generic limits in a large group of small orchids











Intellectual merit: With 800 genera and 25,000 species, Orchidaceae are perhaps the largest and most diverse family of plants, representing a major branch on the tree of life (> one-third of the monocots), with more species than vertebrates (excluding bony fishes). The subtribe Pleurothallidinae is one of the largest subtribes in the family, with over 7,400 species names (more than 3,500 are accepted, with a large number of synonyms) and at least 90 generic concepts are accepted by most workers today, although we suspect many of these generic concepts will prove to be polyphyletic or paraphyletic. However, most comparative studies to date have been hampered by the lack of a densely-sampled, rigorous phylogenetic framework. A rigorous phylogeny will provide an overall framework to facilitate information retrieval and improve classification. This project will reconstruct the phylogenetic relationships of approximately 1,500 species in the subtribe Pleurothallidinae. Field collecting will be required since we require an enormous collection of vouchered orchid DNA. The project is a multidisciplinary collaboration among PIs in the US and 18 collaborators worldwide, as well as a bioinformatics specialist, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and undergraduates. For each species, morphological characters will be coded and DNA sequence data will be collected from three loci/regions: matK and the atpB-rbcL intergenic spacer (plastid) and ITS (nuclear). New software for use in exploring alignments for large datasets in a cluster architecture will be developed and made available broadly. Strong emphasis is placed on communication of the results to the scientific and general public. Communication of results at orchid shows and through major botanical gardens will allow us to reach the widest possible audience. A multimedia website will be constructed to present data as they are analyzed and serve as a repository for sequences, cladograms, hyperbolic trees, descriptions, keys, voucher information, and images of each orchid sampled. Workshops will be organized to coincide with the 19th World Orchid Conference in Miami in 2008 so that professional and amateur orchidologists can learn about the ongoing project. Finally, a formal symposium is planned for 2008 at the Monocots conference in Denmark to present all of our results and to bring together our international collaborators.
Broader impacts: No other group of plants so captures the interest of botanists, horticulturists, and the public as orchids. The orchid breeding and cultivation industry is now estimated to be worth more than $9 billion annually worldwide. Orchids are an ideal group of charismatic organisms with which to foster interest and understanding in conservation, systematics, phylogenetics, and biodiversity. We will capitalize on this opportunity by providing outreach at many levels, including public museums, universities, local orchid societies, and most broadly through web-based tools. The project will provide for training of undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows, and will foster collaboration among scientists (including both biologists and computer scientists) and museum outreach specialists. It will increase collaboration among the network of orchid systematists worldwide that have been assembled, and provide opportunities for additional individuals to participate in this work. In particular, collaboration with Costa Rican, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and Brazilian scientists will enhance the network of partnerships which we have developed with other investigators. Women graduate students from Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador and male students from Mexico and Costa Rica will broaden the representation of scientists from Central and South America and bring gender, ethnic and geographical diversity to this collaborative project. The novel approach to exploring the implications of DNA alignments for large data sets will be made available broadly as a software product.

Page developed and maintained by Norris H. Williams.
Please send your comments and suggestions to the webmaster: orchid@flmnh.ufl.edu
Page last updated: 7 September 2005