Although we primarily focus on morphology, plant reproductive structures do not exist in a vacuum. Some of our projects have therefore explored plant ecology, particularly in conifers. Much of this work has built on our phylogeny; for example, we found consistent differences in divergence times between Southern and Northern Hemisphere conifer groups that suggest very different diversification histories. This pattern may reflect climatic differences over the Cenozoic, and particularly over the Neogene, that favored more recent diversification in the Northern Hemisphere and the persistence of older lineages in the Southern Hemisphere. We have also combined phylogenetic information with detailed geographical information for every extant conifer species, identifying conifer richness hotspots and asking if these regions contain unique phylogenetic or trait signatures that may explain their formation. We found that richness hotspots are best explained simply as accumulations of regional diversity in heterogenous, climatically stable environments. Current work is focused on more directly exploring the effects of past and current climates on conifer distribution, as well as linking reproductive traits to ecological strategies such as serotiny (the retention of closed seed cones).  

Relevant publications


Sundaram, M., Donoghue, M.J., Farjon, A., Filer, D., Mathews, S., Jetz, W., Leslie, A.B. 2019. Accumulation over evolutionary time as a major cause of biodiversity hotspots in conifers. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 286: 20191887.

Swarup, K., Contreras, D., Leslie, A. B. 2021. Serotiny and the evolution of seed cone size in Cupressaceae. International Journal of Plant Sciences 182: 9-18.


Leslie, A.B., Beaulieu, J.M., Rai, H.S., Crane, P.R., Donoghue, M.J., and Mathews, S. 2012. Hemisphere-scale differences in conifer evolutionary dynamics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 109: 1617-1622.