Much of the work that Kew scientists work on in the herbarium is focused on taxonomy, which is the study of classifying organisms, and in this case plants, into groups based on their evolutionary histories and relationships. You can do this through DNA analysis, morphological characteristics, geography, etc., but the most thorough studies are DNA based and include other factors as well. They family of plants that I’ve been doing much of my research on at Kew, is notorious for being a very tricky family to organize taxonomically, and there is still much research to be done in order to classify its many genera and species.
Recently, my advisor at Kew published a study that analyzed the DNA of certain Myrtaceae genera and found that several of the genera that we’ve previously recognized are in fact ‘false’, meaning that they are genetically similar enough to be included in a separate genus, Myrcia. My work the past couple weeks has been focused on name transfers of about 130 different species from one genus, Calyptranthes, into Myrcia. What’s really fun about this is that I am using my knowledge from four semesters of Latin at U of M to rename these species based on their unique geographical or morphological characters.
I’ve also been learning about the process of scientific collaboration between research institutions. I’ve been in contact with several other botanists from Cuba, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, etc., and it’s been awesome to learn about the work that they’ve been doing in this realm and to work together on this particular paper. For the remainder of the week, I will continue working on the format and introduction of the paper and prepare it for submission to a taxonomy journal!