Molecular systematics studies, new species descriptions, developmental genetics of seeds, land plant phylogenomics, the description of a 125 million year old tree fern fossil–this, and more, is the research of the scientists at The New York Botanical Garden.
DNA Barcode Authentication of Devil’s Claw Herbal Dietary Supplements
Devil’s claw is the vernacular name for a genus of medicinal plants that occur in the Kalahari Desert and Namibia Steppes. The genus comprises two distinct species: Harpagophytum procumbens and H. zeyheri.
Although the European pharmacopeia considers the species interchangeable, recent studies have demonstrated two chemically distinct species that should not be treated as the same species. Further, the sale of H. zeyheri as an herbal supplement is not legal in the United States. The authors used DNA barcoding to distinguish H. procumbens from H. zeyheri in herbal supplements. Among the 20 fully-analyzable supplements, H. procumbens was not detected in 75%; 25% contained both H. procumbens and H. zeyheri; and none contained only H. procumbens. The authors recommend a novel mini-barcode region as a standard method of quality control in the manufacture of devil’s claw supplements.
(MDPI, September 24, 2021
NYBG Contact: Damon Little)
Agronomic and Metabolomic Side-Effects of a Divergent Selection for Glucosinolate Content in Kale
Brassica oleracea var. acephala (kale) is a cruciferous vegetable widely cultivated for its leaves and flower buds in Europe and a food of global interest as a “superfood”. Brassica crops accumulate phytochemicals called glucosinolates (GSLs) which play an important role in plant defense against biotic stresses.
Studies carried out to date suggest that GSLs may have a role in the adaptation of plants to different environments, but direct evidence is lacking. The authors grew two kale populations divergently selected for high and low indol-3-ylmethylGSL (IM) content (H-IM and L-IM, respectively) in different environments and analyzed agronomic parameters, GSL profiles and metabolomic profile. They found a significant increase in fresh and dry foliar weight in H-IM kale populations compared to L-IM in addition to a greater accumulation of total GSLs, indole GSLs and, specifically, IM and 1-methoxyindol-3-ylmethylGSL (1MeOIM). Metabolomic analysis revealed a significant different concentration of 44 metabolites in H-IM kale populations compared to L-IM. The authors suggest that H-IM kale populations could be more tolerant to diverse environmental conditions, possibly due to GSLs and the associated metabolites with predicted antioxidant potential.
(Metabolites, June 14, 2021
NYBG Contact: Alex McAlvay)
The Herbarium 2021 Half–Earth Challenge Dataset
Herbarium sheets present a unique view of the world’s botanical history, evolution, and diversity. This makes them an all–important data source for botanical research.
With the increased digitization of herbaria worldwide and the advances in the fine–grained classification domain that can facilitate automatic identification of herbarium specimens, there are a lot of opportunities for supporting research in this field. However, existing datasets are either too small, or not diverse enough, in terms of represented taxa, geographic distribution or host institutions. Furthermore,aggregating multiple datasets is difficult as taxa exist under a multitude of different names and the taxonomy re-quires alignment to a common reference. We present the Herbarium Half–Earth dataset, the largest and most diverse dataset of herbarium specimens to date for automatic taxon recognition.
(arXiV, May 28, 2021
NYBG Contacts: Damon Little, Barbara Ambrose)
Impacts of Rock Climbing on Cliff Vegetation
Cliff vegetation is diverse, understudied, and threatened by increased human disturbance. The growing popularity of rock climbing heightens the need for science-based management to balance recreational use and conservation of cliff ecosystems.
This team of researchers, led by NYBG Graduate Student Laura Boggess, presents a review of vegetation-focused climbing-impact studies. They compare study design and climbing-specific considerations in 19 studies and report the impact of rock climbing on richness and abundance of lichens, bryophytes, and vascular plants. They then propose a set of best practices to guide design of future studies.
This review reveals that existing studies have employed widely differing methods for data collection and analysis. The effects of climbing on vegetation also varied among studies. Standardizing methods, such as pairing climbed and unclimbed transects or including a metric for climbing use, will generate more reliable and useful conclusions about the effect of climbing on vegetation. Climbing will increasingly disturb cliff ecosystems. The authors’ proposed best practices for climbing study methods are one way to produce more accurate information to inform climbing management plans, ultimately enhancing cliff conservation.
(Applied Vegetation Science, April 2021
NYBG Contact: Laura Boggess)
Low bee visitation rates explain pollinator shifts to vertebrates in tropical mountains
Evolutionary shifts from bee to vertebrate pollination are common in tropical mountains, and reduction in bee pollination efficiency under adverse montane weather conditions has been proposed to drive these shifts. Although pollinator shifts are central to the evolution and diversification of angiosperms, we lack experimental evidence of the ecological processes underlying such shifts.
Here, the authors combine phylogenetic and distributional data for 138 species of the Neotropical plant tribe Merianieae (Melastomataceae) with pollinator observations of 11 species and field pollination experiments of six species to test whether the mountain environment may indeed drive such shifts. The authors demonstrate that shifts from bee to vertebrate pollination coincide with occurrence at high elevations, and they show that vertebrates are highly efficient pollinators even under the harsh environmental conditions of tropical mountains, whereas bee pollination efficiency lowers significantly as reflected in flower visitation rates. Furthermore, the authors show that pollinator shifts in Merianieae coincide with the final phases of the Andean uplift and were contingent on adaptive floral trait changes to alternative rewards and mechanisms facilitating pollen dispersal. These results provide evidence that abiotic environmental conditions (i.e,. mountain climate) may indeed reduce the efficiency of a plant clade’s ancestral pollinator group and correlate with shifts to more efficient new pollinators.
(New Phytologist, April 2021
NYBG Contact: Fabian Michelangeli)
Understanding Medical Cannabis
This book provides a cutting-edge overview of topics related to the medical and therapeutic use of cannabis. Employing an interdisciplinary, biopsychosocial framework, the book explores the biological, cultural, and policy context of medical cannabis from a wide range of perspectives including practitioners, academics, and medical cannabis advocates.
The book bridges the gap between theory and practice and underscores the urgent need for expanded and rigorous scientific research as medical cannabis is increasingly legalized. Chapters are both evidence-based and practical, weaving in learning objectives, review questions, and case examples, all of which will prepare students and professionals for the reality of working with medical cannabis consumers.
*One chapter in the book, Cannabis Ethnomedicine (Balick & Dahmer), explores the historical and cultural context of cannabis and addresses contemporary medicinal uses.
(Understanding Medical Cannabis, January 2021
NYBG Contact: Michael Balick)
First Reports of Vivipary in Neotropical Melastomataceae
The authors present the first reports of vivipary in Neotropical Melastomataceae and remark on the evolutionary relationships among the three lineages that share this feature.
The observational data were gathered during field expeditions and from herbaria collections. These data were then plotted onto a phylogeny developed for the Melastomataceae in a previous study. Vivipary is reported in six species belonging to three genera and three tribes of Melastomataceae. These species have convergent characters, such as an herbaceous habit and capsular fruits, and inhabit similar ecological niches in shaded tropical rain forest floors. This record of convergent vivipary distributed among different lineages could elicit discussions regarding the role of the phenomenon in the distribution of individuals within populations as well as contribute to the knowledge of vivipary in flowering plants.
(International Journal of Plant Sciences, January, 2021
NYBG Contact: Fabian Michelangeli)
Retracing origins of exceptional cycads in botanical collections to increase conservation value
Cycads have a long history of use in traditional medicine and food, and are among the most highly sought‐after plants in ornamental horticulture. Threatened by overharvesting and habitat destruction, cycads are the most threatened group of plants in the world.
Thousands of cycads are on display at botanic gardens worldwide, and many have been kept alive for centuries. Unfortunately, information about their provenance is unknown or has been lost over time. By retracing wild origins (provenance) of cycads in botanical collections, we can realize their untapped value for use in restoration and recovery work, addressing international conservation targets.
(People, Plants, Planet, December 19, 2020
NYBG Contact: Dennis Stevenson)
Herbarium: The Quest to Preserve & Classify the World's Plants
Since the 1500s, scientists have documented the plants and fungi that grew around them, organizing the specimens into collections. Known as herbaria, these archives helped give rise to botany as its own scientific endeavor.
Herbarium is a fascinating enquiry into this unique field of plant biology, exploring how herbaria emerged and have changed over time, who promoted and contributed to them, and why they remain such an important source of data for their new role: understanding how the world’s flora is changing. Barbara Thiers, director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden, also explains how recent innovations that allow us to see things at both the molecular level and on a global scale can be applied to herbaria specimens, helping us address some of the most critical problems facing the world today.
At its heart, Herbarium is a compelling reminder of one of humanity’s better impulses: to save things—not just for ourselves, but for generations to come.
(Timber Press, December 8, 2020
NYBG Contact: Barbara Thiers)
New Edition of Plants, People and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany
NYBG’s Michael Balick and his colleague Paul Alan Cox, head of the Institute of Ethnomedicine and Brain Chemistry Labs in Jackson Hole, Wyoming have just published the second edition of their widely acclaimed book, Plants, People and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany.
This edition, developed as a textbook for ethnobotany classes as well as the lay public, discusses the botanical wisdom of indigenous peoples. The authors argue that the very roots of human culture are deeply intertwined with plants, and that conservation goals can be best achieved by learning from indigenous peoples and their beliefs. The book is written in an engaging style understandable to all, with first-hand stories of fieldwork, spectacular illustrations and a deep respect for cultural diversity and the earth’s natural heritage. Recently, the American Botanical Council in Austin Texas hosted a virtual book launch event, with anthropologist and sustainability specialist Ann Armbrecht moderating a conversation with Drs. Balick and Cox that can be viewed here.
(CRC Press, September, 2020
NYBG Contact: Michael Balick)