Using flowering plants to address questions about plant biodiversity, biogeography, and evolution, I am interested in why some families of flowering plants are so species-rich and the factors that have promoted this diversification. Can certain families of plants be used as indicators of biodiversity hotspots and can this information be useful in conservation decisions? I am also studying species in a megadiverse family of plants like Princess Flowers (Melastomataceae) to determine how they are related to one another and where they fit into the tree of life for flowering plants.
For the past 30 years the major emphasis of my research has been the study of New World Acanthaceae (shrimp plants and their relatives). Although known in temperate regions primarily for showy ornamentals, the Acanthaceae are the 11th largest family of flowering plants (with more than 4,000 species) and a prominent element of many tropical regions. Mexico and Central America comprise a major center of diversity for this family.
Nathalie Nagalingum studies the evolution and diversification of plants, particularly ferns and cycads, and also oversees the Academy’s botany collection. Nagalingum is one of just a handful of researchers worldwide who studies cycads, a palm-like plant that comprises the most endangered group of organisms on Earth. In addition to her research, Nagalingum is passionate about museum science and the opportunity to use her research findings to inform broader conservation projects.