Tropical Plant Conservation News

Archive - May 2011

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Dr. Eric von Wettberg Attends International Meeting in France

Mon, May 30, 2011 at 05:29:23 PM

In May Dr Eric von Wettberg visited the Ecole Nacional Superieure de Toulouse as a visiting faculty fellow to continue ongoing research on salt tolerance of wild alfalfa (Medicago truncatula) from the Mediterranean.  In addition to lecturing on his work to colleagues and researchers at ENSAT, he presented new results at the Model Legume Meeting (a scientific conference on Medicago) in Sainte-Maxime, France.


FIU/FTBG Graduate Student Receives Grant from Florida Native Plant Society

Wed, May 25, 2011 at 05:33:12 PM

• FIU/FTBG graduate student Tonya Fotinos (Von Wettberg lab) was recently awarded a Florida Native Plant Society conservation grant for her research on the genetic diversity in the federally endangered Keys Tree Cactus, Pilosocereus robinii.  Populations from the Florida Keys have experienced a more than 80% decline in population in the past decade through habitat loss and environmental change. This grant will provide the laboratory supplies to develop molecular markers to determine whether remaining populations are reproducing sexually, and help identify good candidate populations for the on-going reintroduction efforts.


A Milestone in the History of Research of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Sun, May 22, 2011 at 05:35:34 PM

• The publication of the book The Anatomy of Palms by Prof. Barry Tomlinson (Harvard University and National Tropical Botanic Garden), Dr. James W. Horn (currently at the Smithsonian Institution), and Fairchild’s Dr. Jack B. Fisher (recently retired) represents an important research contribution in structural botany and evolution in this large tropical plant family. The book is the result of a four year project at the Garden funded by the National Science Foundation (project number: 0515683) and provides the most complete account of palm anatomy ever produced.  This study also provided an avenue to train one graduate student (Karen Laubengayer, MS) and additional research opportunities to a post-doctoral researcher (Dr. James W. Horn). The Oxford University website ( provides additional information on the content and structure of this book. Copies of this work are for sale at the bookstore of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Image on bottom left: Leaf anatomy of Washingtonia. Bottom right: Dr. Jack Fisher teaching tropical botany at the Garden


Joint Field Expedition to Dominican Republic between Institute of Jamaica, National Botanic Garden of Dominican Republic and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Tue, May 17, 2011 at 05:37:03 PM

• Botanists from the Institute of Jamaica (Tracy Commock and Keron Campbell), the National Botanic Garden of Dominican Republic (Rosa Rodriguez, Teodoro Clase, and Brígido Peguero), and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (Melissa Abdo) performed a field expedition to the Dominican Republic between May 9th and 13th. During this visit the team collected plant material in limestone karst mogote habitats, helping to build upon baseline data that the National Botanic Garden of the Dominican Republic has collected to date. The expedition was supported by the MacArthur Foundation and was aimed at enhancing institutional collaborations among botanical institutions of the Caribbean Islands. Image on the right: The Director of the National Botanic Garden of the Dominican Republic Ricardo Garcia (left) greets Tracy Commock and Keron Campbell). Image on the bottom left: plant hunting limestone karst mogote habitats at "Los Haitises" National Park, from left to right: Rosa Rodriguez, Keron Campbell, Tracy Commock, and Teodoro Clase. Image on the bottom right: one of the mogotes at "Los Haitises" National Park where field studies where performed.  


Fairchild Challenge Alumnus Joins Research Teams of FIU-Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Montgomery Botanical Center, and USDA

Sat, May 14, 2011 at 05:39:13 PM

• Our welcome to Nicolas Espinosa, Fairchild Challenge Alumnus and sophomore student of Florida International University who will be working with us as a research intern during this summer. Nicolas is majoring in Environmental Studies and during his High School years at South Plantation High School he was an active participant of the Fairchild Challenge. His internship is being funded by a NSF project on "Caribbean Cycads Biogeography, Conservation, and Systematics". During this internship Nicolas will be hosted by the Montgomery Botanical Center (in May, mentored by Dr. Patrick Griffith and Dr. Chad Husby), the herbarium of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (in June, mentored by Dr. Bret Jestrow and Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega), and the Subtropical Horticulture Research Station of USDA (in July, mentored by Dr. Dayana Salas-Leiva and Dr. Alan Meerow). His research at Montgomery Botanical Center will focus on ex situ conservation methods. During his internship at the Fairchild Herbarium, Nicolas will gain experience in herbarium management and the use of optical microscopy techniques for systematics. Finally, his studies at USDA will be based on the use of DNA techniques to address phylogenetic questions. Nicolas joined this research team on May 9th. The image on the right shows Nicolas spraying soapy water on Caribbean Islands taxa of Zamia to control mealy bugs at the Montgomery Botanical Center.



Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden - Institute of Jamaica Workshop on DNA Methods

Wed, May 11, 2011 at 05:37:47 PM

 • Under the supervision of our Herbarium Curator Dr. Brett Jestrow, botanists from the the Institute of Jamaica (Tracy Commock and Keron Campbell) undertook an intensive workshop on DNA methods for plant biodiversity assessment between May 16th - 18th.  The workshop included an introduction to DNA isolation, PCR, and sequencing techniques with an overview of phylogenetic methods and related resources.  As a result of the workshop, we achieved our goal of establishing the foundation for future collaborative projects focused on threatened endemic plant species from Jamaica. Image on the left (from left to right): Brett Jestrow, Keron Campbell, Tracy Commock, Melissa Abdo, and Marlon Rumble.



 As part of the educational activities of our NSF funded project on Caribbean cycads and in coordination with the Fairchild Challenge program, the Montgomery Botanical Center hosted students from Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School on May 3. The students were led by teacher Marie Remy. These activities were part of the Environmental Immersion Day Option of the Fairchild Challenge. The visit focused mostly on the "Cycad Biology" program of the Montgomery Botanical Center.



•  A new article by FIU/FTBG conservation Biologist Dr. Kenneth Feeley was published as the cover article in the new issue of the prestigious journal Ecology.  The article, entitled "Directional changes in the species composition of a tropical forest", examines changes in the composition of tree species growing on Barro Colorado Island, Panama.  Dr. Feeley shows that over the past 25 years there has been a remarkably consistent and directional pattern of increasing abundances of drought tolerant species at the expense of more drought insensitive tree species.  The cause(s) of this change remains uncertain but the most likely culprits are either long-term changes in climate leading to reduced water availability (i.e., increasing temperatures adn reduced rainfall), or alternatively the compositional changes may be the ongoing legacy of an extreme El Nino drought that occurred in the early 1980's.   

•  FIU/FTBG graduate student Evan Rehm (Feeley lab) will spend May 2011 initiating his dissertation research project in the Andean highlands of southern Peru.  Specifically he will be working with local collaborators to establish longt erm vegetation and seed dispersal monitoring plots at the ecotone between montane cloud forest and puna grasslands.  Evan will leave Peru in June and July in order to attend the Organization for Tropical Studies course in Tropical Ecology at Costa Rica. Evan will return to Peru briefly in August in order to complete the summer field season of work before returning to FIU for the fall semester.

•  FIU/FTBG graduate student Catherine Bravo (Feeley lab) will spend May – August in her home country of Peru in order research patterns of carbon allocation in cloudforest plant species.  This research will help inform our understandings of the impacts of global climate change on carbon sequestration in tropical forests and will form the foundation of Catherine’s thesis project.

•  FIU/FTBG graduate student Brian Machovia (Feeley lab) will remain in Miami over the summer in order to focus on his dissertation research investigating patterns of land conversion for Banana production in Central and South America.  This research will be conducted primarily through the analysis of time series of remotely-sensed data (e.g., satellite and aerial images) combined with environmental data layers (e.g., temperature, precipitation, soil type, and topography), supplemented with field based data to be collected in the future. Bananas are one of the most widespread an important of all tropical crops yet their impact on the environment remains woefully understudied.


•  FIU/FTBG Conservation Biologist Dr. Kenneth Feeley will spend May-July in southern Peru.  In addition to assisting his graduate students, Evan Rehm, Catherine Bravo, and Brian Machovia. Dr. Feeley will be initiating a new series of field projects aimed at experimentally manipulating environmental conditions (temperature, precipitation, radiation) in the high puna grasslands above Cusco and monitoring the consequences for the establishment of cloud forest tree species.  Understanding the role of environmental filters in limiting the distribution of cloud forest species is an important piece of data required to predict how this critical ecosystem will respond to climate change and other anthropogenic disturbances.  Dr. Feeley will also take several exploratory trips throughout southern and central in order to scout new field sites and establish relationships with potential collaborators.