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AFROMONT project researchers make an expedition to Rwanda

In February 2022, the researchers Juan Antonio Calleja Alarcón (Autonomous University of Madrid), Mercè Galbany Casals (Unit of the Autonomous University of Barcelona associated to the Botanical Institute of Barcelona – CSIC) and Martha Kandziora (Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic), and the student Enock Ndayishimiye (University of Rwanda), have carried out a field trip to explore and collect plant material in Rwanda as part of the AFROMONT research project, coordinated by the Botanical Institute of Barcelona.

Researchers and assistants at the top of the Gahinga volcano.

This project, entitled “Afromontane and Afroalpine archipelagos: unravelling the drivers of diversification and biogeographic connections of two species rich Compositae radiations” is funded by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities within the National Plan, and its main objective is to use two groups of plants from the Compositae family, the genus Helichrysum and the Carduus-Cirsium complex, as case studies to elucidate the biogeographic history of these biodiversity hotspots and the main causes of diversification of their exceptional biota. The study consists of the construction of molecular phylogenies for an almost complete sampling of the groups. Through various types of subsequent bioinformatics analyses, the temporal and spatial origins of these plants can be inferred, as well as the relative role of allopatric and ecological speciation in the diversification of some of the richest plant lineages of the Afromontane and Afroalpine regions.

Muhabura volcano from the Gahinga.

To achieve these goals, the researchers have sampled and collected in several volcanoes from Volcanoes National Park (Gahinga, Muhabura, Bisoke and Karisimbi), in Gishwati Mukura National Park, and in Nyungwe National Park, all located in Rwanda. The expedition recorded data on the distribution of the species, their ecology, and their altitudinal range, and collected leaves for DNA extraction, seeds for obtaining chromosome counts, and specimens to be preserved in the herbarium of the Botanical Institute of Barcelona and for the study of morphological features.

The expedition was made possible thanks to the support of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and African Parks, and the affiliation of the research team to the University of Rwanda. Part of the data obtained will be the basis of the final master’s thesis of Rwandan student Enock Ndayishimiye, who will examine the vulnerability to climate change of this group of plants adapted to cold environments, currently isolated in the higher mountainous areas of the African continent.

The researchers have deposited duplicates of the collections in the National Herbarium of Rwanda where, during their visit, they have trained students and technical staff of the herbarium in the preparation and conservation of plant material, the interpretation of morphological characters of the Compositae family, the use of dichotomous identification keys, and the search of chorological data in international databases.

Photograph author: Mercè Galbany and Juan Antonio Calleja.

Authors: The AFROMONT team

Nomenclatural type catalogue