Ecology and evolution of Meconopsis Vig. (Papaveraceae) in Eastern Tibet

Researcher with Tibetan poppies


This project examines ecological factors underlying the distribution of various Meconopsis species in Eastern Tibet, their phylogeny and the evolution of their breeding systems

This PhD project focused on Tibetan poppies (Meconopsis Vig. spp) because Meconopsis are representative of Tibetan herbs thought to be in decline due to an increase in harvesting for medicinal use. Hongyan Xie's project included several parts:

  1. Various Meconopsis species have a long history of use as medicinal herbs in Tibet. I conducted interviews and obtained statistics on the harvesting of Meconopsis from many Tibetan hospitals, clinics and commercial collectors in the Eastern Tibetan region.
  2. I recorded the abundance of Meconopsis species and habitat characteristics in 7000 contiguous plots along several transects across the Eastern Tibetan plateau. I estimated climatic growth indices by extrapolation from climate stations using trend surface analysis and kriging. This enabled me to define climatic, geomorphic and management indices from which I could predict presence and abundance of common Meconopsis species using General Linear models.
  3. I tagged about 100 plants in each of several populations of selected Meconopsis species in the Eastern Tibetan region. Each year for 3 years, I recorded their survival, size (e.g. number of leaves) and reproduction (e.g. number of flowers and fruits).
  4. I conducted two phylogenetic analyses of Meconopsis and related species (i) using DNA sequences for selected species and (ii) morphometric data on all species. These analyses were consistent and confirmed that Meconopsis Viguier is polyphyletic.
  5. I used controlled pollination trials, conducted in the field, to test whether selected Meconopsis species were self-compatible or apomictic, and also measure natural pollination success. I used seed set to estimate reproductive success, and also germinated seeds to confirm their viability. 

This project is co-supervised by Saul Cunningham at CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences.


Xie, H., J. E. Ash, C. C. Linde, S. Cunningham and A. Nicotra (2014). "Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau Uplift Drives Divergence of Polyploid Poppies: <italic>Meconopsis</italic> Viguier (Papaveraceae)." PLoS ONE 9(6): e99177.

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