My research centers on the plants of the New World tropics and has two basic components,
monographic and floristic. My monographic work focuses on the grass-like Cyperaceae
(Sedge family), particularly the genus Rhynchospora (the beaked rushes),
and the Simaroubaceae (the Tree-of-Heaven family). Although Rhynchospora
and the Simaroubaceae are poles apart in relationships and appearance, they share
one characteristic: both are groups of plants for which no comprehensive, modern
treatment exists. It is, therefore, very difficult to identify specimens of these
groups. I enjoy the challenge of making sense of their diversity: of describing
the new species, interpreting relationships and biogeographic patterns, and making
my knowledge usable by others through monographs and floristic treatments with
illustrations and practical keys.
My long term goal in studying Rhynchospora is to produce a comprehensive
treatment of the genus for the New World, where it is most diverse and
comprises over 200 species. My fascination with the beaked rushes is due
to their ecological diversity. Although the majority are wind pollinated,
"grassy," plants of tropical savannas, there are species adapted to the
deep shade of rainforests, the strong currents of blackwater rivers, and
the Sphagnum bogs of boreal North America. Insect pollination has arisen
independently at least five times in the genus and some species have adapted
to having their seeds dispersed by ants. Evolutionary adaptations in each
of these situations has resulted in a remarkable variety of morphological
characteristics which I use in determining relationships within the genus.
My objective in studying the Simaroubaceae is to write a monograph of
the approximately 100 New World species of the family for publication in
Neotropica. In this effort, I am collaborating with two excellent Brazilian
botanists. In addition to our study of the systematics of this family,
we are also placing emphasis on the unique chemistry of the group and how
that is reflected in its ethnobotanical and potential pharmacological uses.
Floristic research gives me an opportunity to study a wide variety of
plant species in a specific area. I am studying the rainforests of coastal
Bahia, Brazil in collaboration with the Center for Cocoa Research in Bahia.
Because of its geographic isolation from other forest types, this rain
forest has one of the highest percentages of endemism in the world: over
fifty percent of the tree species are found nowhere else. Intensive inventory
of the plant species of the
Biological Reserve in southern Bahia, Brazil, shows that almost 30% of
the species occurring in the Reserve have distributions restricted to southern
Bahia and northern Espírito Santo. Our research has shown that these
forests have a diversity of tree species among the highest in the world.
Thus, the assemblage of plant and animal species found here consitute a
biota recognized as one of the most unique and endangered on earth. Our
studies of this area will produce scientific information critical to making
informed decisions about conservation priorities.
Email Address: email@example.com
ASSOCIATE CURATOR, Institute of Systematic Botany.
Ph.D. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Lecturer and Teaching Fellow, University
of Michigan (1973-1980).
Collection Manager, Herbarium, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh
Adjunct Research Scientist, Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation,
University, Pittsburgh (1982-1983).
Honorary Research Associate, The New York Botanical Garden (1981-1982);
B.A. Krukoff Research Associate (1983-1986); Assistant Curator (1986-1992):
Associate Curator (1992- ).
Adjunct Professor, Lehman College, City
University of New York (1987- ).
Associate Editor, Brittonia (1983-1987);
Associate Editor, Taxon (1987-1990).
Associate Editor, Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden (1991-1992):
Chairman, Science Computer Committee (1992- ).
Memberships in American Society of Plant Taxonomists; Associación
Latinoamericana de Botánica; Association of Tropical Biology; Fundação
Pro Natureza; International Association for Plant Taxonomy; Michigan Botanical
Club; The Rainforest Alliance; Sociedade Botânica do Brasil; Sociedade
Botânica de São Paulo; Southern Appalachian Botanical Club;
The Nature Conservancy; The Society for Economic Botany.
- Thomas, W. 1984. "The systematics of Rhynchospora section Dichromena
(Cyperaceae)." Mem. New York Bot. Gard. 37:1-116.
- Thomas, W. 1985. "Contribuções do Projeto Flora Amazônica.
The Simaba guianensis complex in northern South America." Acta Amazônica
15(1/2) Suplemento 2:71-79. (publ. 1987).
- Thomas, W. 1988. "A conspectus of Mexican and Central American Picramnia
(Simaroubaceae)." Brittonia 40(1):89-105.
- Thomas, W. and G. Davidse. 1989. "Koyamaea neblinensis, a new genus
and species of Cyperaceae (Sclerioideae) from Cerro de la Neblina, Venezuela
and Brazil." Syst. Bot. 14(2):189-196.
Thomas, W. 1992. "A synopsis of Rhynchospora (Cyperaceae) in Mesoamerica."