Botanists use climbing plants to understand the origin of Brazilian forests

flor1Ricardo Zorzetto
FAPESP – No challenge appears to be too intimidating for botanist Lúcia Garcez Lohmann, a specialist in plant systematics at the University of São Paulo. Upon completing her course of studies in biology in 1995 at the age of 22, she took on a task that would strike fear into the heart of any experienced researcher. She decided to seek a definitive answer to a question that had occupied botanists for two centuries: understanding the kinship and the evolutionary and biogeographic history of the 382 species of lianas that are scattered across a vast swath of the Americas from southern Mexico to northern Argentina and Chile, and that help make tropical forests so different from temperate forests. After visiting museum collections around the world and spending months collecting new specimens in Central and South American forests, Lohmann set up a classification system based on the kinship relationship between the species, using the genetic and morphological characteristics of these plants. Now, as she begins to understand when, where and how these lianas—species representing nearly half of the Bignoniaceae, a plant family having bell-shaped flowers that includes trees such as ipês and rosewoods—emerged in such variety, Lohmann is ready to begin an even more ambitious project. She wants to understand what led the Amazon forest to host the world’s largest variety of plants and animals—in other words, how the Amazon became the Amazon.

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Source and Photo: FAPESP, October 2012
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