Prof Timo van der Niet holds a PhD from University of Zurich.Throughout my career I have been driven by my fascination for the amazing diversity of form and function of flowering plants. During my PhD I discovered the richness of the Cape Floristic Region and Drakensberg Alpine flora, and ever since I have developed research projects that aim at unlocking the processes that have given rise to these remarkable and unique biodiversity hotspots. Together with students and colleagues I have published numerous papers on plant speciation and diversification, and factors governing community assembly, with the main focus on the role of pollinators in shaping these processes.
Many features of animals and plants are considered ‘adaptations’. Further, it is thought that new species originate if they adapt to new environments. For both these processes there is surprisingly little evidence from natural systems. I use the diversity of flowers in terms of colour, odour and shape and ask whether this can be explained in terms of adaptations to different pollinators (pollination syndromes), and whether adaptation to a new pollinator leads to the origin of a new plant species, and ultimately contributes to diversity at a large scale (e.g. an entire flora). To answer these questions I use a combination of natural history research, taxonomy, phylogenetics, and experimental approaches. Doing so I seek for broad-scale trait-environment correlations and try to understand the processes leading to such patterns. I also make use of cutting edge methods to describe flower characteristics in great detail (scent and shape), and molecular methods to understand whether populations exchange genes, and how species are related.