Plant diversity and evolution

The DEP team conducts fundamental research in the field of plant evolution at different taxonomic levels.

These questions are organized into three axes: (1) Evolutionary drivers of plant adaptation and species diversification; (2) evolution of angiosperm pollen and flowers; (3) description of flowering plant diversity to improve our knowledge in relation to the taxonomy and systematics of these organisms.

The research conducted by the DEP team involves a wide array of approaches including population genetics, molecular evolution, phylogenetic reconstruction, ancestral state reconstruction, molecular dating, cytogenetics, and floral development.

Laboratoire Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution TEAM LEADER: Olivier Chauveau


Timothée Bastide, Alexis Dambry


Laboratoire Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution

Research areas:

Evolutionary drivers of plant adaptation and species diversification

Knowledge of the genetic bases and evolutionary drivers of plant adaptation to local environment is a major issue in evolutionary biology and has strong implications in ecosystem conservation and agrobiodiversity valorisation.

Research is conducted on wild species and crops using multi-level (from genes to ecosystems) and interdisciplinary (biology, geography, social sciences) approaches.

This research is structured into four major subprojects: 1) variability in genome organization, local adaptation and species diversification, 2) microevolutionary processes promoting species emergence and diversification 3) Genetic architecture of traits involved in adaptation to contrasted environments, and 4) Crop seed exchanges as a driver of population adaptation to global change.

Evolution of pollen and flowers

Pollen grains in angiosperms are morphologically highly diverse. Our character of interest is the aperture type, which is defined by the number, shape and position of apertures. Apertures are defined as zones where the pollen wall is thinner or even absent, and have the double function of allowing pollen tube germination (which in turn allows fertilization of the female parts), and exchanges between the pollen grain and the environment. We explore the developmental and selective processes leading to variation in aperture types. We are also interested in the phylogenetic distribution of this diversity.

The flower is a key innovation of the most diversified group of land plants, the angiosperms. Beyond a highly conserved basic groundplan, they present an amazing diversity that is believed to have been largely shaped by the interaction with pollinating agents. Using a variety of approaches combining ancestral state reconstruction, diversification rate analyses, developmental floral biology and evo-devo studies, we aim to unravel (i) the diversification patterns having led to the observed diversity of flowering plants, (ii) the patterns of floral trait evolution, and (iii) the developmental and genetic bases of floral trait diversity.

Taxonomy and plant systematics

Despite the accelerated loss of biodiversity observed since the second half of the 20th century, it is assumed that c. 400 000 species of plants still inhabit the planet; but knowledge on this diversity is largely fragmentary. This is particularly true for the tropical and subtropical regions of the globe that are both species-rich and strongly impacted by the destruction of the natural habitats and the global climate change.

To progress on the general knowledge and preservation of this fragile and exceptional diversity (1) we describe and analyse species morphological and ecological patterns (species descriptions, publication of floristic treatments and identification keys), and (2) we reconstruct phylogenetic relationships for various groups of plants. This work contributes to the continuous update of the phylogenetic classification of life (systematics) and to the knowledge on the state of biodiversity; this information is key to the global policies towards preservation of the natural heritage.

Our current projects in taxonomy and systematics are centred around several large flowering plant and conifer families (Asteraceae, Commelinaceae, Cupressaceae, Gesneriaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Iridaceae, Magnoliaceae, Pinaceae, Ranunculaceae and Solanaceae), various regions of the world (Caribbean, Madagascar, Mediterranean region, South America and Tropical Asia) and make use of a large range of methods and biological material.

Scientific Mediation:

The Breath of Pollen

Art-science project dedicated to the biodiversity of pollen grains. Ceramic art. Installation during the Nature Festival and Biodiversity Festival on the University Paris-Saclay campus in 2022. Installation during the ‘Nuit Blanche’ event at Lycée Schweitzer in Le Raincy in 2022. Installation for the Eugloh Evening (University Paris-Saclay) in June 2022. Permanent installation at the sas – University-Paris-Saclay. Béatrice Albert and the science-art-society group of the University Paris-Saclay.

BOTASCOPIA Project (since 2022)

Development of a participatory botanical knowledge base to generate freely accessible descriptive sheets of flowering plant species. – Sophie Nadot and Xavier Aubriot; in partnership with the association Tela Botanica

Botany MOOC 2 ‘On plants and their uses’ (broadcast in 2023)

Participants progress in the knowledge of plants, through the discovery of major botanical families and their numerous uses: feeding, healing, clothing, housing and tooling, or creating social connections. – Sophie Nadot (pedagogical manager and sequence coordinator) and Xavier Aubriot (sequence coordinator); in partnership with the association Tela Botanica

MOOC ‘Pollinators’ (broadcast in 2023)

Participants learn to recognize the main pollinators, how they interact with plants, the pressures exerted on them, and how to welcome and preserve them. – Sophie Nadot (botanist expert); in partnership with the association Tela Botanica

MOOC ‘Wild Herbs’ (broadcasts in 2018 and 2021)

University Paris-Saclay, Tela Botanica, and AgroParisTech deliver a course on wild herbs. – Sophie Nadot (pedagogical manager); in partnership with the association Tela Botanica

Botany MOOC 1 (broadcasts in 2016 and 2018)

Laboratoire Ecologie, Systématique et EvolutionFirst French-speaking MOOC to provide bases in botany. Free, open to all, and produced by Tela Botanica. – Hervé Sauquet (pedagogical manager) and Sophie Nadot (botanist expert)