Leslie Hill Molecular Systematics Laboratory

This laboratory, situated in the Kirstenbosch Research Centre, was opened in 2000. It is named after the late Leslie Hill whose generous donations made it possible, in recognition of his contribution to the conservation of the flora of South Africa.

In recent years the incorporation of DNA sequencing technology into the field of plant systematics has provided a powerful additional source of evidence in our search to understand relationships among plants. The primary aims of the laboratory are to carry out research on the South African flora through:

· evaluation of classifications
· the study of plant speciation
· assisting conservation strategies by evaluation of genetic variation in natural populations.

Through the use of DNA sequences important advances have been made in the resolution of higher order angiosperm relationships. However, resolution of relationships at the species level can also help us to uncover factors that are important in the speciation process and the age and origins of components of the South African flora.

Conservation strategies in South Africa are beginning to recognize the importance of understanding the contribution of the physical environment to the speciation process. Therefore, conservation-planning priorities are shifting to encompass not only biodiversity patterns but also the evolutionary processes that sustain them. Consequently, reconstruction of the way plant species are related to one another can give us an indirect insight into the ecological factors that may have been involved in promoting speciation, over evolutionary timescales of millions of years.

Answering the question of why there are so many plant species in South Africa, particularly in the Cape Region, has engrossed botanists and evolutionary biologists for decades. Our aim is to contribute new and exciting evidence to the debate; evidence that will hopefully lead to better understanding of how to protect our unique floral heritage.

A DNA bank to house genetic material of South African plants is to be established as part of the Molecular Systematics programme at Kirstenbosch.


Ferozah Conrad
Scientist: Leslie Hill Molecular Systematics Llaboratory
Dr Gail Reeves
Head: Leslie Hill Molecular Systematics Laboratory





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