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Adapting to Change: Exploring the Ecology and Evolution of Tropical rainforest Understory Species Amidst a Changing World

Short title: Understory shrubs: adapting amidst change

Chairs: Jonas Depecker, Filip Vandelook, Steven Janssens, Piet Stoffelen

Contact: jonas.depecker@kuleuven.be

Large trees dominate one’s perspective of the African tropical rainforest, which is mirrored in a research focus on canopy trees. Yet, most of the floristic diversity in these forests is actually found in the forest’s understory as shrubs or small trees (Lasso et al 2011; Lü & Tang 2010). The communities in this forest layer also play a key role in succession and ecological functioning of the whole forest (Cicuzza et al 2013; Kusuma et al 2018). However, we know very little about ecological processes such as pollination and seed dispersal, and evolutionary processes such as speciation in understory species. The forest’s understory is also home to several crop wild relatives (CWR) of for example Coffee and Cocoa, which support multibillion-dollar sectors. Coffea species for example have diversified in the understory of African rainforests (Ref). However, like many understory species, coffee species are facing a plethora of threats related to a fast-changing planet, including climate change, deforestation, and forest degradation. To conserve understory shrubs, including coffee, more research on the evolution and ecology of these species is crucial. The main objective of this session is to gather knowledge on different aspects of the ecology and evolution of tropical rainforest understory species. Specific objectives include bring together early career scientists studying rainforest understory from different perspectives, share knowledge about state-of-the-art techniques and analyses, explore possibilities for joint research projects, share research experiences with early and late career scientists.

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