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Dongwei Zhao


Dongwei graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from Northwest A&F University, and went on to do his Masters in Botany at Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and Graduate University of CAS. He then worked at the Key Laboratory for Plant Diversity and Biogeography of East Asia (KIB, CAS) as a Research Assistant for more than three years, before coming to Trinity to pursue a PhD degree. His early work focused on the population genetics, domestication origin and speciation of tea plants. Currently, Dongwei is undertaking his PhD programme under the supervision of Prof John Parnell and Prof Trevor Hodkinson.

PhD project: Phylogenetics, taxonomy and biogeography of Camellia (Theaceae) in the Indochinese Peninsula.

Tea, camellias and oil camellias have brought huge profits to people worldwide. These plants belong to the genus Camellia. The variable morphological characters of the group make the classification of Camellia very difficult and controversial. Previous monographers of Camellia shaped their views largely based on collections from China. Similarly, using the samples mainly collected in China, subsequent researchers investigated the molecular phylogeny of Camellia with DNA markers but without yielding a formal classification. Here, species from Indochina, including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, are added to fill the data gaps of previous studies, to yield a new taxonomic treatment of the group and to infer the origin, evolution and dispersal of Camellia in this area. The species are also reviewed and described to clarify their nomenclatural status, geographic distributions and diagnostic character states.

Single copy nuclear DNA markers are used in this research to generate a robust phylogenetic tree on which a new classification of Camellia in Indochina is based. Molecular dating analyses are undertaken with fossil calibration points to infer the origin time, evolutionary history and dispersal routes of different clades. Species of Camellia in Indochina are examined, described and discussed with illustrations, distribution maps, nomenclatural notes and a key to them is developed.

Many species of Camellia in Indochina, such as golden/yellow camellias, have been exposed to critical over-exploitation for medicinal or ornamental purposes in their natural habitats. The natural resources of Camellia are of fundamental importance for the breeding of tea, oil camellias and horticultural species and thus require strict protection for their sustainable development. This programme provides the taxonomic framework in the region for such conservation.

This project is funded by the China Scholarship Council / Irish Universities Association Joint Scholarship, and partly supported by grants from the International Association for Plant Taxonomy, the Otomo Endowment Research Fund of the International Camellia Society, the Systematics Research Fund jointly administered by the Linnean Society of London and the Systematics Association, the Graduate Studies Research Travel Fund and the Trinity Trust, the Botany Department and the SYNTHESYS Project financed by European Community Research Infrastructure Action under the FP7 Integrating Activities Programme.

Selected publications

  • Zhao DW, Parnell JAN, Hodkinson TR. 2017. Names of Assam tea: Their priority, typification and nomenclatural notes. Taxon 66: 1447–1455.
  • Zhao DW, Parnell JAN, Hodkinson TR. 2017. Typification of names in the genus Camellia (Theaceae). Phytotaxa 292: 171–179.
  • Zhao DW, Parnell JAN, Dubéarnès A. 2016. Requests for binding decisions on the descriptive statements associated with Thea dormoyana and T. piquetiana. Taxon 65: 1183.
  • Zhao DW, Yang JB, Yang SX, Kato K, Luo JP. 2014. Genetic diversity and domestication origin of tea plant Camellia taliensis (Theaceae) as revealed by microsatellite markers. BMC Plant Biology 14: 14.