Winner’s story: Kowiyou Yessoufou

2016 Research Prize of the Société Botanique de France

The present award is definitely encouraging and is evidence that I am engaged in exciting research. More critically, this award will boost my research as it will provide the badly needed financial support to further my research.

It was indeed with a great surprise that I received the news that I had won the 2016 Research Prize of the Société Botanique de France, with my paper “Assessing the phylogenetic dimension of Australian Acacia species introduced outside their native ranges” published in Botany Letters.

This paper is all about testing whether the process of biological invasion from the introduction to the invasion stages has a phylogenetic basis. We used the Australian Acacias as the model taxonomic group, as the invasion process of this group is very well documented. The rationale of the study is twofold: i) species providing certain services to humans might be phylogenetically closer than expected, and ii) naturalized and invasive species are two functionally distinct groups. However, the evidence that naturalized and invasive species are also two phylogenetically distinct groups is mixed.

Using the set of Australian Acacia species known to have been introduced intentionally by humans to several parts of the world for the ecosystem services they provide, we first tested whether there is a phylogenetic pattern in the subset of introduced species. We found that species moved beyond Australia are phylogenetically more closely related than expected at random, suggesting that the ecosystem services that guide human-mediated introduction of these species into new areas may be shared between closely related species. We also found that naturalized non-invasive and naturalized invasive species are closely related and both are not a phylogenetically random subset of introduced species, suggesting that naturalization and invasion processes may be phylogenetically mediated. Collectively, our study indicates that phylogeny might play different roles at different stages of the biological invasion process.

The findings of this study are crucial in revealing the hidden phylogenetic basis driving why some species (not all) are introduced to new environment and why some of them only naturalize and others (not all) become invasive. This evidence will generate a great deal of debate in invasion biology, and this debate has already started less than a year after the publication of our study.

Dr Kowiyou Yessoufou is an evolutionary ecologist and environmental scientist with a PhD in Botany obtained in 2012 at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. Dr Yessoufou is currently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Johannesburg, where his team’s main objective is to understand both the evolutionary dynamic of species accumulation and the temporal changes of environmental conditions and explore how both have contributed to shaping current biodiversity patterns over time and across spaces. To this end, Dr Yessoufou analyzes DNA data and contemporary ecological information using phylogenetic and biogeographic approaches. He is specifically interested into questions related to community/population dynamic, extinction risk, biological invasion, and the link between climate change and biodiversity. His works are mainly on plants (with currently a special focus on Cycads) although all living organisms are of interest to him.

Want to read Kowiyou’s award-winning paper?  “Assessing the phylogenetic dimension of Australian Acacia species introduced outside their native ranges”