February 2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $457,530 grant (award # 1050340) to a team of scientists from Florida International University, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, the United States Department of Agriculture, Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC) and New York Botanic Garden (Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega, Dr. Alan Meerow, Dr. Patrick Griffith, and Dr. Dennis Stevenson, respectively) to conduct evolutionary and conservation genetics studies of the cycad genus Zamia from the Caribbean Islands. The four Principal Investigators have a solid history of outstanding and productive collaborations, and their institutions have a long tradition of research concerning cycad biology and Caribbean Island plants.

The project will involve: (1) molecular studies coordinated by Dr. Meerow; (2) field work and ex situ conservation, coordinated by Dr. Griffith, in association with MBC cycad biologist Michael Calonje; (3) graduate and undergraduate education coordinated by Dr. Francisco-Ortega; and (4) taxonomy coordinated by Dr. Stevenson. Importantly, the study also has a strong secondary education component that will be carried out in association with the Fairchild Challenge program. The project will be done in close partnership with land managers and scientists from the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas Islands. Image on the right: Dr. Alan Meerow collecting germplasm and DNA samples on the island of North Andros, the Bahamas Archipelago.

• FIU/FTBG biologist Dr. Kenneth Feeley is featured prominently in a larger-than-life photograph on the side of Florida International University’s crosstown bus carrying students between the main campus and the Biscayne Bay campus.

• Dr. Eric von Wettberg will be at ICRISAT, the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, in Hyderabad India from Feb 20-March 1 to continue ongoing research examining consequences of domestication in chickpea.  In addition to discussing data and field work, he will be attending the annual conference of the Indian society ADNAT, the Association for the Promotion of DNA Finger Printing and Associated DNA Technologies from Feb 23-25.  Following the conference he will teach a module on genetic data analysis in the hands-on training short course provided by ADNAT.

• During February 3 - 16, FIU-FTBG scientist Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega and cycad biologist from Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC) Michael Calonje are performing field studies in the Bahamas (Abaco, Grand Bahama, and Eleuthera). The field trip is being conducted in partnership with colleagues from the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and is part of our ongoing projects focusing on systematics, conservation, and genetic diversity of Caribbean cycads. Michael and Javier will be collecting seeds for ex situ conservation, herbarium specimens for taxonomic studies at MBC, and DNA samples for genetic studies. Molecular studies will be performed at the laboratory of Dr. Alan Meerow (USDA). Financial support for this field expedition was provided by MBC and it is part of larger project focusing on the Bahamas that was also funded by the Mohammed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Funds. Our gratitude to Sarah Gilmer for her help during our field studies in Abaco. Michael Vincent and Russell Adams provided invaluable information concerning the distribution of this species on these islands. Louis Johnson provided technical help in Eluthera. Images taking during our field studies are shown below, they also depict plants of Zamia integrifolia in their natural habitat. Bottom left (from left to right: Michael Calonje, Javier Francisco Ortega, and David Knowles (Chief Park Warden, Abaco national parks, Bahamas National Trust). Bottom middle (from left to right: David Knowles and Sarah Gilmer). Bottom right (Michael Calonje).


Conservation Magazine and Mongabay.com, two of the leading online and print sources for conservation related news, featured an article describing some recent findings of FIU/ FTBG biologist Dr. Kenneth Feeley. Dr. Kenneth Feeley, in collaboration with Dr. Miles Silman of Wake Forest University, analyzed the availability of herbarium-based data for
tropical plant species worldwide.  Overall they looked at at close to a million herbarium records representing over 100,000 species.  While it may seem like a lot of information, Feeley and Silman found that the vast majority of tropical plant species are extremely underrepresented in online databases such as the Fairchild Virtual Herbarium.  Indeed, most tropical plant species are known form only a single specimen.  This lack of data greatly limits the ability of ecologists and conservation biologists to map the distributions of species and predict their responses to future disturbances such as deforestation climate change.  These results point to the need for continued botanical exploration and collecting efforts (in the spirit
of Dr. David Fairchild) as well as the need for more trained botanists that can identify and handle the specimen coming in from the field.

Read the Conservation Magazine article.

Read the Mongabay.com article.

Read the original research article.

On 3 February, 2011 our Sam Wright delivered a talk to the monthly meeting of the Florida Native Plant Society for the Magnolia Chapter based out of Tallahassee. The talk was entitled: "The Connect to Protect Network linking up Miami-Dade’s last remaining Pine Rocklands."