Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Carex (family Cyperaceae) - classification and phylogeny

Karen Wilson AM - Senior Research Scientist

The sedge genus Carex (tribe Cariceae) has about 2100 species, one of the four biggest flowering plant genera worldwide, and the largest plant genus in temperate regions. Species play major ecological roles in many habitats, both as natives and as weeds. Research indicates that the generic limits should be broadened to include all genera currently in tribe Cariceae including Uncinia.

Revisions of such major global taxa provide information essential to species and habitat conservation, ecological restoration, and understanding of biodiversity. With this in mind the International Cariceae Working Group got together in 2011 to compile, vet, and disseminate online information about the many species of Carex. These included information with respect to their taxonomy, images, ecology and biogeography, and identification keys.

The Cariceae group's first workshop was in September 2011 at the Field Museum in Chicago, funded by the Biodiversity Synthesis Center of the Encyclopedia of Life. Karen Wilson took part in this workshop, with 30 botanists and computer scientists from Europe, Asia, New Zealand and North America - pictured at right in front of Sue, the Field Museum's prized Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. Click here for names of those pictured.

This year, a US National Science Foundation grant to revise Carex sens. lat. has been awarded to Dr Andrew Hipp (Morton Arboretum, USA), Dr Eric Roalson (Washington State University, USA) and Dr Marcia Waterway (McGill University, Canada), with 14 other members of the Cariceae Working Group from ten countries as collaborators.
The five-year project will result in:

  • A phylogenetic frame-work for Carex. Our primary goal is to develop a species-level phylogenyfor Carex and identify major lineages that we canuse as a framework in revising the sectional classification. Five field trips are planned to increase the sampling from about 900 species toabout 1360 species in a hierarchical sampling of 3-10 genes, including two DNA barcoding regions already sequenced for hundreds of individuals in this group, to provide a globally useful genetic resource.
  • A revised sectionalclassification of Carex. A robust phylogeny of the genus is only half of the sectional revision; the other half is identifying lineages and assigning valid names to them. Morphological and DNA data will be used to create a phylogenetically-based infrageneric classificationof Carex that is predictive, practical, and robust. Thiswill be the framework for future revisionary, evolutionary and ecological studies.
  • A database of traits totest diversification patterns and as the basis for predictive classification and monography.
  • A virtual research environment for the Cyperaceae community.
  • Increased taxonomic capacity: which will help in training the next generation of systematists, increasing taxonomic readiness in pre-college and undergraduate students.

Carex
30 botanists and computer scientists from Europe, Asia, New Zealand and North America - pictured at right in front of Sue, the Field Museum's prized Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. Click here for names of those pictured.

Australian alpine and subalpine regions
Australian alpine and subalpine regions are home to over 20 species of Carex sens. lat. (view from Charlotte Pass to Mt Kosciuszko pictured). Photo: K. Wilson