ECR feature: Yago Barros-Souza

Yago Barros-Souza is a PhD candidate at the the Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil. He is a evolutionary biologist with special focus on biogeography and diversification of neotropical plants. Here, Yago shares his recent work on spatial and evolutionary processes that drive plant community assembly.

The PhD candidate Yago Barros-Souza

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Institute. Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil

Academic life stage. PhD candidate

Major research themes. My main research interest is the biogeography of neotropical plants and the role of morphological traits in plant evolution.

Current study system. The ancient eastern South American mountains (campos rupestres) harbor high levels of plant diversity and endemism. In an area smaller than Ireland, the campos rupestres contain more than 5000 plant species, most of them narrowly distributed. Therefore, the campos rupestres are considered one of the richest and most endemic floras in the tropics. This astonishingplant diversity brought forth a number of questions about the underlying cause of diversity patterns in this vegetation and other similar systems (e.g., fynbos). However, these questions remain largely unanswered, thus posing an exciting opportunity for research in this field.

Recent JBI paper. Barros-Souza, Y., & Borges, L. M. (2022). Spatial-and lineage-dependent processes underpin floristic assembly in the megadiverse Eastern South American mountains. Journal of Biogeography, 50, 302–315.

Motivation behind this paper. The campos rupestres have a very complex evolutionary history that fuels an interesting ongoing debate. For example, there are multiple lines of evidence suggesting that recent and fast diversification likely shaped the vegetation, leading to a flora mainly composed by young lineages. On the other hand, the long-term climatic and topographic stability of the campos rupestres could have facilitated the persistence of old lineages. Therefore, multiple, and sometimes competing hypotheses have been proposed to describe the evolutionary processes that shaped this vegetation diversity. Nonetheless, the spatial component of the campos rupestres history is often neglected. In our study, we wanted to investigate the evolutionary history of the campos rupestres from an innovative angle, by explicitly placing evolution into a spatial perspective.

Key methodologies. We used metrics of biodiversity to assess phylogenetic diversity, phylogenetic endemism, and beta phylogenetic and taxonomic diversity. As we were particularly interested in identifying general and lineage-specific patterns, we inferred spatial diversity and endemism for all model groups combined, but also for each model group individually. We consider this our most insightful approach, as we found results that wielded interesting conclusions about the idiosyncratic nature of the flora assemblage process.

Campos rupestres at the Serra da Canastra, Minas Gerais, Brazil. (Author: Yago Barros-Souza)

Unexpected challenges. The greatest challenge was to select groups that would function as models for the entire flora. We tried to select both monocots and eudicots that are well represented in the campos rupestres and occur in multiple life forms so we could assess both general and lineage-dependent processes. Initially, we were not focused on lineage-specific patterns, but those turned out to be a central character of the story we told in this recent paper.

Major results. This recent paper conciliates competing hypotheses, showing that multiple processes, such as the persistence of old lineages and recent and fast diversification, have shaped the astonishing diversity of the campos rupestres in different ways. We also show that those processes are both space- and lineage-dependent. Thus, we highlight the importance of considering not only the spatial component of evolutionary processes, but also the unique evolutionary history of each lineage.

Campos rupestres at the Serra do Cipó, Minas Gerais, Brazil. (Author: Leonardo Borges)

Next steps for this research. We are currently work on a project that integrates multiple data types to assess lineage and morphological composition of the campos rupestres and the surrounding vegetation, as well as identifywhich factor(s) mostly influenced shifts in diversification rates in the campos rupestres. Also, we want to understand the role those morphological traits and the surrounding vegetation played on the processes that shaped the campos rupestres astonishing diversity.

If you could study any organism on Earth, what would it be? I’ve never thought of studying any organism in particular. My main interest is to investigate the history of neotropical plants in general,especially those that dwell in mountainous habitats, like the campos rupestres. The campos rupestres is only recently receiving global attention. Considering that, I’m happy with my choice of studying one of the most diverse tropical floras and contribute towards the understanding of the fundamental evolutionary processes that shaped the campos rupestres and other similar systems.

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