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Floral evolution in the Proteaceae

Project aims

  • To build a database of floral and inflorescence characters for researching the iconic Australian plant family Proteaceae
  • To trace the evolution of floral and inflorescence characters  on the phylogenetic tree of the Proteaceae that we have already produced
  • To test competing hypotheses that attempt to explain how and why floral variation in the Proteaceae evolve

Project Summary

Australia is the global centre of diversity of the Proteaceae. Variation in the shape and form of flowers of Proteaceae and the shoots that bear them (inflorescences) is spectacular. We are assembling a database characterising this variation across the family, which will be useful for plant taxonomists, evolutionary and developmental biologists and ecologists. We are using this growing database, in conjunction with a chronogram for the species, to test several hypotheses of floral evolution in the family. Answering these questions will provide more general insights into the processes by which flowers evolve.

Research Update

A set of 58 characters, describing variation in inflorescences and flowers of the Proteaceae, has been assembled. States for these characters are being scored for 197 species, representing all 81 currently recognized genera of Proteaceae plus selected outgroup species. Data are being entered and managed using Proteus, a Microsoft Access database running on the eflower server, a web-accessible virtual desktop on the University of Vienna’s computer network.  We have already been able to demonstrate at least 16 changes from radial to bilateral floral symmetry in the Proteaceae.