Exploring the science of plants, from the field to the lab

Archive: October 2015

New Jersey Transplants “Lichen” Their New Home

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on October 23, 2015 by Science Talk

Jessica L. Allen is a graduate student in the Commodore Matthew Perry Graduate Studies Program, and James C. Lendemer, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator in the Institute of Systematic Botany, both at The New York Botanical Garden. Lichens are their primary research interest.

Old man’s beard (Usnea strigosa) on the trunk of an oak tree.
Old man’s beard (Usnea strigosa) on the trunk of an oak tree.

In April, two species of lichens made their way from the Rutgers Field Station in New Jersey to the Thain Family Forest here at The New York Botanical Garden. You might be wondering how they are faring six months later. We took a walk into the forest recently to check in on them.

They’re still alive! A number of them, however, have mysteriously disappeared.

The old man’s beard (Usnea strigosa) hanging on the branches are healthier than those that were attached directly to the trunk of the tree. The reindeer lichen (Cladonia subtenuis) that were nestled deeply into the leaf litter are healthiest, though animals disturbed some of these lichens and they are now fragmented across the ground. About 20 percent of the transplanted lichens are nowhere to be seen. They were likely taken by birds and squirrels living in the forest to be added to their nests.

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Ancient Wisdom, Modern Practices: Three Decades of Studying the Plants and People of Belize

Posted in Books: Past and Present on October 16, 2015 by Michael Balick

Michael J. Balick, Ph.D., is Vice President for Botanical Science at The New York Botanical Garden and Director and Philecology Curator of the Botanical Garden’s Institute of Economic Botany. For more than 30 years, he has studied the relationship between plants and people, working with traditional cultures in tropical, subtropical, and desert environments around the world.

1015-Messages-from-the-Gods-Cover-800x1190Many scientists who study environmental topics focus on a geographic region, at least for part of their careers. Why? It seems that the longer you work in an area, the more you learn, and the more precise your observations and conclusions can be. And that means that the products of one’s studies, including identifying and establishing conservation areas, can be carried out efficiently.

I first went to Belize in 1987 and established a wonderful partnership with naprapathic physicians Drs. Rosita Arvigo and Gregory Shropshire. Together, we carried out a study that included an inventory of the country’s flora, publication of a primary health care manual based on local knowledge, and a general ethnobotany that documents the useful plants of the region. A few months ago we celebrated the publication of the ethnobotany book, Messages from the Gods: A Guide to the Useful Plants of Belize, published by The New York Botanical Garden and Oxford University Press.

In addition to publication of three books, the program produced teaching materials for local students, established a conservation area, developed training programs for plant collectors, investigated the pharmacological potential of the flora, enhanced economic livelihoods, strengthened the local ecotourism industry, and trained graduate students, as well as many other contributions over a 27-year-period.

Drs. Arvigo and Shropshire continue to reside in Belize and are recognized for their many ongoing contributions to that nation. We hope you will enjoy the results of our explorations, undertaken in collaboration with hundreds of people in Belize—a real community effort!

To watch a video of a presentation that Drs. Balick and Arvigo gave at the Botanical Garden about their research in Belize, click above.

Messages from the Gods: A Guide to the Useful Plants of Belize is available here

A Long Way to Go: Protecting and Conserving Endangered Fungi

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on October 13, 2015 by Naveed Davoodian

Naveed Davoodian is a Ph.D. candidate in the Commodore Matthew Perry Graduate Studies Program at The New York Botanical Garden and the City University of New York. His research is focused on the diversity, evolution, and conservation of fungi.

Sarcodon fuscoindicus
Sarcodon fuscoindicus, one of several fungal species that have been managed under a federal conservation plan for northwestern forests (Photo: Noah Siegel)

Despite the many benefits that fungi provide, conservation policies and actions have incorporated these critically important species in very limited ways. On a global scale, fungi lag significantly behind plants and animals in conservation efforts. The situation is, unfortunately, no different in the United States.

To illustrate this point, I examined and evaluated U.S. federal conservation policies that directly list fungal species. This analysis, which focused on the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Survey and Manage Standards and Guidelines of the Northwest Forest Plan, was published earlier this year in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation. While both of these frameworks have contributed positively to biodiversity conservation in the U.S., both currently suffer from obstacles hindering protection of fungi and other overlooked organisms.

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Welcome to the Family

Posted in New Plant Discoveries on October 2, 2015 by Douglas Daly

Douglas C. Daly, Ph.D., is the Director of the Institute of Systematic Botany and the B. A. Krukoff Curator of Amazonian Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. Among his research activities, he is a specialist in the Burseraceae (frankincense and myrrh) family of plants.

During this 2007 expedition on Brazil’s Rio Japiim, researchers collected a plant that was recently identified as a new discovery for that country.

trunk-1200x800Brazil, welcome to the Lepidobotryaceae.

The story of how this oddball plant family was found in Brazil for the first time is a perfect example of what could be called turbo-botany. It combines a tightly connected international network of taxonomic specialists, agile and constantly refreshed databases, a globally comprehensive herbarium, and digital imaging—all hinging on collecting plants in the field and getting the specimens in front of experienced eyes.

The plant at the center of this story was collected during a rapid flora survey of an area that was being considered for conservation as a state reserve in northwestern Acre, a state in western Brazil. Acre was the main geographic focus of my research for 25 years, in collaboration with colleagues at the Federal University of Acre. The project culminated in an analytical catalogue of 4,000 species, the first of its kind in that region. Just as important, it provided training for quite a few young Brazilian botanists.

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