Origins & speciation
New Zealand’s unique flora has evolved in a context of geographic isolation, but is not a relic of ancient times nor has it been completely cut off from the rest of the world. Periods of mountain building and of inundation by the sea, volcanism, cycles of climate change, and the arrival of immigrant species by long distance dispersal have ensured the flora has remained dynamic and changing.
Our research into plant phylogeny uses DNA sequences to clarify evolutionary relationships among New Zealand plant groups and those of the wider world, and explore when and how differently plants arrived and established here. Putting New Zealand plants into their global context in this way provides important insight and understanding and allows us to better apply global knowledge to local species.
Our dynamic and evolving flora presents many opportunities to study the process of evolution at the level of populations and species. Many plant groups have undergone spectacular adaptive radiations in New Zealand, often involving interfertile (hybridising) species and species that vary with geography or environmental factors.
Our research documents the patterns of genetic variation within species, and provides understanding of the processes through which one species diverges into many. This is important for the conservation management of plant biodiversity and for predicting and mitigating the impacts of human activity on ecosystems.