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Photo by Marcos Silveira

Ph.D.: City University of New York, 1987
Title: Curator
Research: Burseraceae, Amazonian floristics

I specialize in the systematics of the Burseraceae -- the Frankincense family -- and in the vegetation of the Amazon. Both in diversity and in abundance, the Burseraceae comprise an important element of many of the world's lowland tropical forests, notably in southwestern Mexico, the Malesian area, and Amazonia, and can serve as a useful tool for phytogeographic studies in the primary forests of these regions. This resiniferous tree family usually figures prominently in the ethnobotany of the regions where it occurs. The leaves of some species are used to make medicinal teas and baths, and the resins are used for illumination, for caulking canoes, as an incense in rituals, and as medicines (either as a fumatory or in a drinkable form), usually for pulmonary disorders. The fruits of the Burseraceae are dispersed by birds and primates; those of Dacryodes are a critical food source for the oilbirds of Trinidad and northern Venezuela, and those of the related
genus Canarium are important to the diet of the lemurs of Madagascar.

I feel it is important to emphasize and expand the role of systematics in the protection of tropical forests and peoples, in the discovery of new medicines and other products, and in defending the value of tropical forests as sustainable resources. My three principal projects reflect this orientation. First, I try to use the data from my taxonomic work to help protect zones of high endemism and high diversity. Second, I am coordinating NYBG's contract with the National Cancer Institute to collect and identify samples of neotropical plants in a search for new anti-cancer and anti-AIDS drugs. Finally, the goal of my program of floristic, economic botany, and ecological research on the extractive reserves in Acre, Brazil is to help those who live on the reserves to make a decent and sustainable living from the forest.

My curator painting shows an Amazonian forest in which species of Burseraceae predominate. The white arillodes surrounding the pyrenes of most species of this family provide important food for animals. The blue-crowned motmot (Motmotus momota) in the tree on the left and the red-rumped agouti (Dasyprocta agouti) in the upper right background are both taking advantage of this sugar-rich food source.

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