We would like to make a belated introduction to Natalia Contreras. Natalia began her PhD with us in 2018! She is a tropical botanist and researcher interested in the evolution and biogeography of Neotropical plant species. She has studied diversification patterns and morphological variation in tropical high-elevation or páramo flora, specifically the genus Lupinus in Colombia. During that project she gained insight into the drivers of speciation in tropical alpine environments, as well as improving our understanding of species diversity and taxonomy of Andean lupines.
Her current research as a PhD student with us at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, is focused on another highly threatened biome, lowland Neotropical Dry Forest. Specifically, she will focus on determining species relationships, patterns of genetic structure and adaptive variation of drought-related genes in Guazuma, a representative of the tribe Theobromeae in the family Malvaceae. As a widely distributed and ecological generalist adapted to a range of water limited conditions, from seasonally dry to riparian forests, Guazuma possesses the genetic toolbox necessary to explore the genes and pathways regulating drought-induced responses.
Understanding the physiological and genetic responses of wild tropical plants is important to comprehend ecosystem dynamics and might help to predict responses to climate change and our knowledge of molecular mechanisms of drought tolerance in similar Neotropical species. Importantly, this work could form the basis for studying the possible responses of other representatives across the tribe Theobromeae that includes rain forest restricted genera and, in particular, the economically important source of chocolate, Theobroma cacao.