Plant Systematics, Conservation Biology, and Ethnobotany


Mónica Carlsen. Ph.D.

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Mónica Carlsen. Ph.D.

Assistant Scientist – Education Coordinator
Research Department, Science & Conservation Division

Research Interests

• Zingiberales systematics and evolution
• Plant species diversity and geographic distribution in tropical regions
• Phylogenomics of rapid radiations of species

Biogeography and conservation risks in Heliconia (Heliconiaceae). Carlsen, the current REU Co-PI, is an Assistant Scientist and the Education Coordinator of MBG’s Research Department. Her research focuses in understanding rapid radiations of species-rich Neotropical plant genera integrating revisionary taxonomical studies and molecular phylogenomics. The genus Heliconia comprises ca. 200 species distributed mainly in the Neotropics, with a few of them in tropical Southeast Asia. A recent molecular phylogeny has shown that several groups within the genus are geographically restricted, and given the high level of endemism in Heliconia, the majority of the species are potentially vulnerable to extinction. Using this molecular phylogeny the student will analyze the biogeographic patterns of the genus and infer if vulnerability to extinction is correlated with a particular group or clade within Heliconia. The student will use collections data of georeferenced herbarium specimens available online to create a database of geographic distribution for each species and map these distributions along the phylogeny, with this information the student would reconstruct ancestral distribution areas in Heliconia and analyze migration patterns in time and space. In addition, the geographic distribution data will be used to estimate extinction vulnerability for each species, and understand how these two components could be related to each other within the context of the phylogeny.

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