Agnes Dellinger, PhD
My research is centered on exploring how plant-animal interactions are modulated across different (abiotic) environmental contexts, and how these abiotic and biotic processes contribute to plant diversification at macro- and microevolutionary scales. Within this framework, I am particularly interested in understanding how and when flowers diversify under continuous or divergent pollinator-mediated selection, and what conditions promote overlap or shifts in (floral) niche space.
To address my questions, I combine observational and experimental field work on plant-pollinator interactions with the structural and functional investigation of flower morphology. I use phylogenetic comparative methods to trace trait evolution across deep evolutionary time, and employ environmental niche modelling to tease apart the relative importance of abiotic and biotic factors in driving plant diversification.
Since 2012, I have been working towards establishing the Neotropical plant tribe Merianieae (Melastomataceae) as my model system for addressing questions related to macro- and microevolutionary processes of plant diversification. The ca. 300 species of Merianieae harbour an exceptional diversity of different pollination strategies (i.e. buzz-pollination by bees, pollination by passerine birds and by mixed assemblages of vertebrates such as hummingbirds, bats, rodents) and are distributed from lowland rainforests to high-altitudes in the Andes. This offers an ideal set-up for exploring longstanding questions of lineage diversification in one of the Earth’s prime biodiversity hotspots.