IlhasMac - Conservation of plant biodiversity in the Macaronesian Hotspot: Integrating phylogenetic, taxonomic, and ecological approaches to study the Cape Verde endemic flora

  • FCT Project
  • International Research Project
  • 2014 to 2016

BACKGROUND -Islands are of great importance for conservation of plant diversity: about 25% of the known vascular plant species are endemic to islands. The Macaronesian region [the Azores, Madeira, Savage, Canary, and Cape Verde archipelagos] is part of the Mediterranean Biodiversity Hotspot, and its flora exhibits many distinctive characteristics including a high degree of endemism [ca. 900 species]. Due to the islands’ small areas and often high altitudes, they have considerable climatic variation, resulting in high ecological diversity, and so are ideal for studying evolutionary processes. Cape Verde is the least studied Macaronesian archipelago in terms of biodiversity and evolution. Its flora comprises 82 endemic taxa, and most of these species are threatened, due to the increase of: habitat loss, population fragmentation, invasive species, overexploitation or climate change. There is still no comprehensive flora of the Cape Verde Islands and much baseline taxonomic research is required. Furthermore, the Red List for the archipelago’s flora was published 16 years ago and is therefore outdated. Despite its enormous scientific value and concern for its conservation, Cape Verde’s biodiversity remains poorly understood.

OBJECTIVES AND APPROACHES - The main goal of this project is to improve our knowledge on species evolution by using endemic species to test key hypotheses of island biogeography with an integrative approach that combines phylogenetic, taxonomy, and ecological data. In addition, a DNA barcoding study will contribute to identify and characterize the endemic flora. Finally, the compilation and analysis of data [e.g. taxonomic, ecological, distribution, and molecular data] for each endemic taxon, will be available in form of database to the international scientific community. Therefore, in order to contribute to the knowledge of the plant diversity in Cape Verde, this project addresses three main questions: [1] Which endemic plant species exist in Cape Verde? [2] What is the current conservation status of the Cape Verde endemics? [3] Which are the biogeographic links through the Macaronesian archipelagos?

OUTCOMES - The Project will allow sharing knowledge and expertise among island plant experts from the Macaronesian archipelagos and beyond. The updated description of the endemic Cape Verde flora will be contributed to the “Macaronesia Endemic Flora”. Specific threats to native plants will be detailed and a new Red List of the endemic flora will be published, and results will be provided to Cape Verde partners, to support flora conservation. A multidisciplinary approach [Phylogenetics; Taxonomy; Ecology; Conservation Biology] will be used to understand the evolution of Macaronesian diversity. Therefore, integrating the knowledge gathered from previous works on Cape Verde flora and the team’s knowledge on Systematics and Molecular phylogenetic studies, it is expected that the proposed project will provide expertise and a new baseline data to explore patterns of evolution in these insular ecosystems. Furthermore, links with research institutions of Cape Verde and other countries will be strengthened.

Funding Institution:

Science and Technology Foundation/Ministry of Education and Science.


Partners/ Participating Institution:

Maria Romeiras & Maria Pais - Fundação da Faculdade de Ciências (FFC/FC/UL)

Maria Cristina Duarte - Faculdade de Ciências (FC/UL)

José Carlos Costa - Instituto Superior de Agronomia (ISA/UTL)

Mónica Moura - University of Azores/Instituto de Ciências e Tecnologias Agrárias e Agro-Alimentares - Porto (ICETA-Porto/UP)

Miguel Menezes de Sequeira - University of Madeira (UMA)

Isildo Gomes - Instituto Nacional de Investigação e Desenvolvimento Agrário de Cabo Verde (INIDA)

Hanno Schaefer - Technische Universität München (TUM)

Mark Carine - Natural History Museum (NHM/London)

Host Institution: Faculdade de Ciências (FC/UL)

Additional Research Unit: Centro de Biodiversidade, Genómica Integrativa e Funcional (BioFIG/FC/UL)