Biosystematic studies in Southern African species of Strychnos L. (Loganiaceae)
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ADEKUNLE ADEBOWALE Ph.D. thesis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, 2014 Strychnos L. is the largest genus of the pantropical or subtropical family Loganiaceae with about 200 species. Their habits range from trees and shrubs in open areas to lianas in rain forests. The genus is well-known as a source of alkaloids such as strychnine and brucine and other allied compounds, all of which have been used medicinally and in curare formulation for centuries. While taxonomic circumscription of the genus has never been contentious, there is no consensus about infrageneric affiliations, the latest of which recognises 12 sections based on morphological characters. Recent molecular evaluation of the genus on a global scale with the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) marker suggests that many of the currently recognised sections are not monophyletic. An understanding of regional patterns of evolution, which is relevant for biodiversity conservation, requires an in-depth study of the focus group on a regional scale. Using a multiplicity of approaches from morphological and molecular to biogeographical, this study is an attempt at elucidating diversity patterns at different levels among the southern African species of Strychnos. Various combinations of morphological attributes from branches, leaves, flowers and fruits distinguish seemingly homologous clusters of species, sometimes supported by molecular data. A lack of molecular support for a hypothetical relationship may viii indicate case(s) of convergent evolution in these features across the taxa involved. Molecular phylogenies based on the ITS and chloroplast markers confirm the nonmonophyletic nature of all but section Spinosae. Proposals for sectional recircumscriptions of the genus are provided. Patterns of speciation within Strychnos suggest a Miocene origin in the rain forests along the South America/Guinea-Congolian axis. Within the southern African subcontinent, the evolution of the genus carries a strong ecological signature along either the forest or savanna biome, with many accompanying morphological adaptations for the respective habitats. The non-synonymy of S. gerrardii with S. madagascariensis is demonstrated with multiple sources of data, as a case of integrative taxonomy succeeding where single-source data approaches might have failed. Routes to current distribution of the genus in southern Africa are hypothesised to involve a combination of palaeo-climatic oscillations and allopatric speciation, consistent with the process indicated in many other plant groups for the region. The findings are discussed in the wider context of their implications for taxonomy and biodiversity conservation in the face of climate change, food security and other relevant issues in systematics.