Current News and Events

This page is dedicated to news concerning our graduate program, including information about field/site trips, awards and grants, attendance to professional meetings, publications, and other exciting developments happening here

November 2013

FIU-FTBG Graduate Student Receives Research Grant from the International Palm Society

FIU-FTBG Master student and Coordinator of the Conservation Program of the National Botanic Garden of the Dominican Republic Rosa Rodríguez is currently being supported by the Fulbright Progam for Foreign Students, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden,  Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Florida International University, and Montgomery Botanical Center. Her molecular biology research has just been awarded with a $3,000 grant from the International Palm Society. Rosa will use these funds to obtain microsatellite data of species of Pseudophoenix from the Caribbean Basin. This project has a strong conservation and plant exploration component and it is being performed in partnership with the National Botanic Garden of the Dominican Republic and the Botanic Garden of Cayes, Haiti. Her studies have been conducted in close collaboration with botanists from the Leon Levy Plant Preserve at Eleuthera (Bahamas National Trust), the Botanic Garden of the University of Puerto Rico (Campus of Río Piedras), the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (Turks & Caicos Islands Government) and the Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry of Dominica.



July 2013

FIU-FTBG Graduate Students with Affiliation with Fairchild Obtained their Degrees

Two FIU graduate students with research affiliations with Fairchild have just obtained their degrees
. Tonya Fotinos (Department of Biological Sciences of FIU) successfully defended her masters thesis entitled "Genetic structure of the Florida Key Tree Cactus, Pilosocereus robinii, using restriction site associated DNA (RAD) markers" on July 3rd. Tonya is advised by Dr. Eric von Wettberg (FIU-Biology faculty member, with research affiliation with the Garden).  Tonya has worked closely with Dr. Joyce Maschinski (Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden) and has been an active volunteer at the Garden.  In Fall 2013 Tonya will be an instructor at Panola College in Carthage, Texas.  Klara Scharnagl (Department of Earth and Environment of FIU) successfully defended her masters thesis entitled "The Effects of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on four legume hosts in South Florida pine rockland soils" on July 2nd. Klara is co-advised by Dr. Krish Jayachandran (Department of Earth and Environment, Agroecology Program) and Dr. Eric von Wettberg. She has been an active associate and volunteer at Fairchild during her graduate studies.  Klara will be pursuing a PhD in lichenology at Michigan State University this coming fall. Image below Klara (left) and Tonya (right) celebrating their graduate degrees.


March 2013

FIU Graduate School has Annual Retreat at The Paul and Swanee DiMare Science Village

Fairchild and FIU have a solid commitment for graduate education and 32 students from FIU have developed their graduate research at Fairchild since 1998. On March 14 we hosted the annual retreat of the FIU Graduate School. The FIU team was welcomed by our Director Dr. Carl Lewis who stressed the importance of graduate education for the Garden mission and how the FIU-Fairchild partnership is being key to enhance the education program of Fairchild. Image below from left to right: FIU-FTBG Faculty Dr. Hong Liu, Dean of the FIU Graduate School Dr. Lakshmi N. Reddi, FTBG Executive Director Dr. Carl Lewis, and Associate Dean of the FIU Graduate School Dr. Lidia Kos.


January 2013

Graduate Students Participate in 6th Chocolate Festival

Thanks to our Graduate Students who found innovative ways to engage our visitors during the 2013 International Chocolate Festival that took place between January 25 - 27.  Graduate students Rosa Rodriquez, Vanessa Sanchez, and Klara Sharnagle had an opportunity to share their research with the more than 11,000 visitors who visited our new DiMari Science Village Complex. Image below Klara Sharnagle interacting with a family as they prepared to visit the Wings of the Tropics Butterfly Conservatory.


FIU-Fairchild Graduate Student Rosa Rodriguez Receives Research Grant

FIU-FTBG Master student Rosa Rodriguez is currently being supported by the Fulbright Progam for Foreign Students and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Her field research has also received supported by the Montgomery Botanical Center. Our congratulations to Rosa Rodriguez who has just been awarded with a $10,000 grant from the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund to perform summer field work in the Dominican Republic during 2013. Some of the funds will also be allocated to develop outreach and environmental education initiatives in association with the National Botanic Garden of the Dominican Republic. Rosa's research is being supervised by FIU-FTBG faculty Javier Francisco Ortega. FTBG Director of the Herbarium, Brett Jestrow is one of her graduate committee members. Scott Zona and Jennifer Richards from FIU are also committee members. Rosa's Master will focus on genetic diversity patterns and conservation genetics of species of the palm genus Pseudophoenix from Hispaniola.

September 2012

Reception to Graduate Students Performing their Research at Fairchild

On Saturday September 8th, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden hosted a reception for graduate students from Florida International University and University of Miami who are performing their research in close association with Fairchild. These students have office and lab facilities at Fairchild and access to all of the resources of the Garden. Prof. Suzanna Rose (Founding Director and Current Director of the
School of Integrated Science and Humanity of FIU) delivered the keynote address entitled "Creative Risk-Taking in Graduate School and Life". Currently the Garden hosts 15 graduate students from FIU or UM. Images below: Top (Prof. Suzanna Rose delivering her lecture), bottom (graduate students with FIU-Fairchild Faculty, FIU Faculty, UM Faculty, and Fairchild Scientists).

July 2012


FIU-Fairchild Student Successfully Defends her Master Thesis

Congratulations to FIU-Fairchild graduate student Cara Cooper who successfully defended her MS Thesis on July 9, 2012 at the Department of Earth and Environment of Florida International University. Her Thesis was entitled: "Melinis repens Seed Bank Longevity in Miami-Dade County." The project was under the joint supervision of FIU-Fairchild Faculty Dr. Hong Liu and Fairchild Researcher Dr. Joyce Maschinski.

June 2012



FIU-Fairchild Graduate Student Receives Reseach Grant

Our FIU-Fairchild graduate student Emily Warschefsky  has been awarded with a $1,500 grant from the Florida Native Plant Society to perform research on a project entitled "Determining parentage and ploidy of hybrid Tillandsia: Achieving a better understanding of Florida’s native plant diversity". Emily is persuing her Ph.D. degree under the supervision of  Dr. Eric Von Wettberg. Emily's proposal target two hybrid species: Tillandsia x smalliana and T. x floridana and it aims to use molecular and cytological tools to verify the hybrid parentage of these taxa. Futher details of the proposal can be found in here.


March 2012

Wuying Lin Defends her MS Thesis

Congratulations to Wuying Lin who successfully defended his MS Thesis on March 22, 2012 at the Department of Earth and Environment of Florida International University.  Her thesies was entitled: “Comparative reproductive biology of a rare endangered orchid and its congeners” and the research took place at the Yachang Orchid Preserve at Guangxi Province China. The project was under the supervision of our Dr. Hong Liu.

September 2011

Graduate Course on Plant Molecular Systematics

This Fall Semester Dr. Brett Jestrow and Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega are teaching a graduate course in Plant Molecular Systematics.  The course has a lecture component covering principles of molecular systematics and the main phylogenetic methods and a laboratory component focusing on protocols for DNA isolation, PCR, sequencing, and cloning. A total of si students are taking this course


FTBG Welcomes Graduate Students enroll in joint program with FIU and UM

On September 17 Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden arranged a reception to students conducting their Master and Ph.D. studies at Florida International University or University of Miami in association with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. This year we have eight new graduate students. Five of them (Beyte Barrios, Jason Downing, Patricia Houle, Wyatt Sharber, and Emily Warschefsky) are enrolled in Ph.D. programs. Three of the students (Andrew Jungman, Vanessa Sanchez, and Klara Scharnagl) are seeking Master degrees. Our students are enrolled in the graduate programs of the Department of Education of FIU, the Department of Biological Sciences of FIU, the Department of Earth and the Environment of FIU, or the Department of Biology of UM.

During the event Prof. Suzanne Koptur from FIU-Biology delivered a talk about her research on plant-animal interaction in the tropics and the importance of graduate education in career development.



Top right image: Graduate students, Fairchild scientists, and FIU faculty who attented the event.

Bottom right image: Prof. Suzanne Koptur delivering her talk.

May 2011

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

• 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.

•  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.

April 2011

                                Graduate Cytotaxonomy Workshop

•  Prof. Andrew Vovides, Curator of the Botanic Garden of Xalapa and Researcher of the prestigious Instituto de Ecologia, Mexico visited us between April 7 and 18. During this visit Prof. Vovides taught a FIU graduate workshop in Cytotaxonomy.  Prof. Vovides is an authority in cycad biology and botanic garden management. His research focuses primarily on plant cytology, anatomy, histology, and systematics. In 1989-90 he was the first post-doctoral fellow supported by the Montgomery Botanical Center. Then he conducted his studies on cycad anatomy under the guidance of Fairchild scientist Dr. Knut Norstog. It is for us a privilege to have him back at Miami to train the new generation of tropical botanists. This visit has been jointly sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences of FIU, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and Montgomery Botanical Center. A total of seven students took this workshop. Image on the right shows Prof. Vovides and the seven students who took this workshop.

March 2011

  • FIU/FTBG graduate Tonya Fotinos was recently awarded an NIH funded MBRS-RISE fellowship administered by FIU for her research on genetic diversity in the federally endangered Keys Tree Cactus, Pilosocereus robinii.  This fellowship will support Tonya for the next two years as she develops molecular markers to determine whether remaining populations are reproducing sexually, and help identify good candidate populations for on-going reintroduction efforts.

February 2011

  • FIU/FTBG graduate students Catherine Bravo and Evan Rehm have been awarded Tinker Field Research Grants from the Latin American and Caribbean Center at FIU to help support their upcoming field research in the Peruvian Andes.  Catherine Bravo was also awarded a research grant from the Sigma-Xi Scientific Research Society.

January 2011

  • The FIU Biology Symposium will be held on Saturday, January 29th at the Marine Biology Building in the Biscayne Bay Campus (between 9:00 AM-5:00 PM). The Biology Research Symposium is a celebration of research conducted by students in the biological sciences at FIU. The purpose of the Symposium is to allow students to present their projects, proposals, and results in a friendly, professional atmosphere. At the same time, the entire FIU-Fairchild research/education community benefits as we become familiar with the work of others. Graduate and undergraduate students are allocated oral presentation and poster slots. All faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate, and undergraduate students are encouraged to register and attend.  After the Symposium everybody is invited to a party at the house of Mo Donnelly-Steve Oberbauer. The FIU-Biology Office Manager Wilma Dagdag-Vega is working on updating the Biology Symposium web page and it will be available soon. It will have a link to a registration form. You must register to be eligible to attend, present a paper or poster. Only a limited number of oral presentations are available (20) and will be selected on a first come first serve basis (determined by the time you register). A maximum of 20 poster boards are available.

November 2010

  • Congratulations to Dr. Brett Jestrow who successfully defended his Ph.D. Dissertation on November 12, 2010 at the Department of Biological Sciences of Florida International University.  Brett is the fifth Ph.D. student who has obtained his degree with us.  For his dissertation Brett used molecular markers to understand phylogenetic relationships within three plant genera endemic in the Caribbean Islands.  His dissertation was entitled: “Phylogenetics, Conservation, and Historical Biogeography of the West Indian endemic genera of the Adelieae (Euphorbiaceae)”.  From his Dissertation Brett has published one paper, has an additional manuscript in press, and a third one has been recently submitted. He is also being involved in two additional research projects concerning phylogenetics of the tribe palm Ptychosperminae, and a review study on molecular systematics of endangered species endemic in the Caribbean Islands.

October 2010

  • On Oct 18, 2010, UM-FTBG graduate student Robert McElderry successfully defended his doctoral dissertation proposal entitled, “Evolutionary ecology of host association and fire ecology for a widespread and an endemic butterfly.”  He is now an official Ph.D. candidate at University of Miami.  Congratulations to Robert!!
  • Nora Oleas will be delivering two talks at the "X Congreso Latinoamericano de Botanica" that will take place at La Serena, Chile (October 4th - 10th). The two talks will be part of a symposium on "ADN y la conservación de la diversidad vegetal en América Latina."  The first talk will focus on conservation genetics of species of Phaedranassa (Amaryllidaceae).  The second one will provide a review of phylogenetic patterns of endangered species from the Caribbean Islands.  Nora's participation is being jointly sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences of FIU, the Graduate Student Funding Committee of FIU, the College of Arts and Sciences of FIU, and the Caribbean Program of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

September 2010

  • On Saturday September 11th Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden had a reception to the graduate students from FIU and UM who are conducting their research at the Garden. Prof. Brad Bennett from FIU-Biology delivered an introductory talk about the importance of botanic gardens in graduate education.  An image of the graduate students and their advisors taken during this event is show on the left. From left to right: Nora Oleas, Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega, Brett Jestrow, Brian Machovina, Evan Rehm, Dr. Kenneth Feeley, Tonya Fotinos, Dr. Eric von Wettberg, Catherine Bravo, Jason Downing, Wuying Lin, Dr. Joyce Maschinski, Dr. Hong Liu, Prof. Carol Horvitz, and Robert McElderry.


August 2010


Updated November/30/2013