Plant Research and Conservation at The New York Botanical Garden: News and Media
The Guardian: Unproven remedies proliferate in my community, even in the face of a deadly virus
The article highlights the importance of plant-based medicine in the Dominican communities in New York, but reports on the recent proliferation of unfounded home remedies thought to prevent or cure COVID-19.
New York Botanical Garden Ethnobotanist Ina Vandebroek comments on the disconnect between science and the botanical remedies that are so abundantly used in many immigrant communities.
COVID-19 Impacts on Biodiversity Science Collections
Biodiversity collections hold a tremendous amount of data and support research and education in many scientific fields. They are found in natural history museums, botanical gardens, university-based research centers, field stations, and in government agencies.
“These scientific facilities are a backbone of our research enterprise. They must have the resources needed to sustain scientific progress during this chaotic period,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, Executive Director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. “Science is an engine we need to reignite the economy and to combat future public health and environmental problems.” The US bioeconomy was estimated to be about $1 trillion per year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN), Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance), and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) surveyed individuals affiliated with US biodiversity science collections to better understand the effects of COVID-19 related disruptions and closures on biodiversity research and education collections, and the people who use and care for these scientific resources.
“The response to the survey was tremendous, with more than 390 individual responses,” said Dr. Barbara Thiers, President of SPNHC and Vice President for Science at The New York Botanical Garden.
Survey results include the following:
• 96% of natural history collections were unavailable for use in April.
• Most of the scientific collections reported some regular monitoring of resources, but less than 30% were being monitored for pests – a significant threat to collections.
• More than 90% of respondents were working from home, mostly on some aspect of data transcription based on specimen images captured prior to the shutdown.
• When asked about chief concerns arising from a 1-3 month closure:
o Just under 64% were worried about their ability to provide vital research resources;
o Just under 49% were worried about a loss of funding for collections care materials and supplies;
o Just over 47% were concerned about their ability to provide outreach opportunities for the public;
o Nearly 47% were concerned about the loss of staff because of budget cuts;
o 43.5% were concerned about their ability to meet existing grant and contract deadlines.
Center for Plant Conservation Newsletter: Disappearing Lichens and a Southern Appalachian Stronghold
Lichens are fungi that form beautiful, complex symbioses with algae and bacteria. They hold together soils, regulate the climate, allow seeds to germinate, and provide food and shelter for all kinds of animals.
These hubs of activity that bind nature together are incredibly important to nearly everything that lives on land. And many have vanished.
One of the priority areas for lichen conservation is Appalachia, especially the southern mountains in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. For more than a decade NYBG lichenologist James Lendemer has worked with colleagues and students to build the case that this area is a global hotspot for lichen diversity—and one that is critically imperiled. In the process, they published the monumental, Field Guide to the Lichens of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Herbarium 2020 – FGVC7: Identify plant species from herbarium specimens
In recent years, Fine-Grained Visual Recognition Competitions (FGVCs) have spurred progress in the development of image classification models focused on detection of fine-grained visual details in both natural and man-made objects. This year, Google and The New York Botanical Garden have expanded their partnership for the Herbarium 2020 challenge.
In the Herbarium 2020 challenge, researchers are invited to tackle the problem of identifying species of land plants. This challenge is distinguished in that the included images depict dried specimens preserved on herbarium sheets, exclusively. Herbarium sheets are essential to plant science, as they not only preserve the key details of the plants for identification and DNA analysis, but also provide a rare perspective into plant ecology in a historical context. As the world’s second largest herbarium, NYBG’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium contributed a dataset of over 1 M specimens representing over 32,000 species for this year’s challenge.
NY Times: She Wanted to Revive a Park, but First She Had to Take on the Rats
Aleya Lehmann grew tired of watching Verdi Square decay over 16 years—the park was so bad that it became known as Vermin Square or Rat Park. So, Ms. Lehmann gathered a small group of like-minded volunteers to beautify the small slice of the Upper West Side for themselves.
Daniel Atha, a botanist at the New York Botanical Garden who lives near the park, joined the group after meeting them at a volunteer drive. He convinced Ms. Lehmann that instead of boxwoods, she and her fellow volunteers should plant native species, which would attract pollinators, insects, and create a waypoint for animals, and humans, between Central Park and Riverside Park. “This is a community garden, with the parks department, but instead of vegetables, we’re planting for the birds and the butterflies,” Mr. Atha said while working in the garden last fall.
One person’s vision, inspired volunteers, expert advice, a successful rat abatement program, and Verdi Square is Rat Park no longer!
National Parks Magazine: A Liking for Lichens
Every summer for a decade, Erin Tripp and NYBG Lichenologist James Lendemer visit Great Smoky Mountains to look for lichens, organisms that Tripp describes as fungi and algae sandwiches.
When they started their project, researchers had estimated that the 463 species that were documented in Great Smoky Mountains National Park represented at least 90% of the total number of lichen species in the park. After walking at least 2,000 miles and devoting personal funds and countless hours to the effort, they have identified a total of 920 lichen species — a record for a national park — including eight that occur nowhere else in the world and one that had been presumed to be extinct. In addition to doubling the number of species known for the park, Tripp and Lendemer described more than 35 species that were new to science.
NYBG Botanist Dr. Michael Balick recognized by American Horticultural Society
NYBG Ethnobotanist Michael Balick has been named the 2020 recipient of the Dr. H. Marc Cathey Award of The American Horticulatural Society. Dr. Balick is recognized for his “outstanding scientific research that has enriched horticulture and plant science,” in a career spanning over four decades of botanical fieldwork and research around the globe.
Foodie Pharmacology: Jamaican Roots
The Caribbean is home to an amazing assortment of botanicals from merging cultures. In Jamaica, wild plants are used to make special fermented “root tonics” not only as an enjoyable beverage, but also to boost health. Some of these are even attributed with aphrodisiac properties for men and women.
In this podcast episode, host Cassandra Quave speaks with Dr. Ina Vandebroek—ethnobotanist and expert in wild Caribbean plants used as food and medicine. They discuss root tonics and other local delights like “bissy” and “cerassee,” which also play an important role in food and medicine in Jamaica.
Science Advances: Global and future distribution of rarity across land plants
An international team of researchers, including an NYBG scientist, has concluded that more than a third of all plant species are exceptionally rare, making them highly vulnerable to extinction from such threats as habitat destruction and climate change.
In a study published by the online research journal Science Advances, scientists analyzed the largest compilation of global plant observation data ever assembled to determine how many of the roughly 435,000 total plant species should be considered very rare. They found that 36.5 percent, or more than 158,000 species, fall into that category.
One Thousand Plant Genomes: Understanding One Billion Years of Evolution
Did you ever wonder how a pumpkin is related to a pine tree? Our scientists are using new scientific tools to build the tree of life by comparing the genes from over 1000 species of plants. Take a dive into the origins of Earth’s nearly 500,000 plant species.
Plant Talk Blog: Science
From the field to the lab, NYBG’s scientists aren’t just about white coats and microscopes—they’re adventurous and determined globe-trotters who live to discover, understand, and preserve Earth’s biodiversity. The Plant Talk blog exposes the far-reaching work of the Garden’s botanical specialists.