Fairchild Graduate students Nichole Tiernan (Florida International University, Department of Biological Sciences and International Center for Tropical Botany) and Timothy Perez (University of Miami, Department of Biology) have each received The Garden Club of America Award in Tropical Botany, an award of $5500 each.
Nichole Tiernan, Ph.D. candidate, studies the Neotropical genus Plumeria L. (Apocynaceae), commonly known as Frangipani, an ornamental garden plant that occurs throughout the Caribbean Islands. Though several species are common in tropical gardens, including at Fairchild, many wild growing species are not present anywhere in horticulture. Using the living collection at Fairchild, this award will help fund her continued work to understand the challenging taxonomy of the group, unveiling wild varieties currently not in cultivation. This is important for botanical garden collections, which provideimportant habitation for off-site conservation. Classification studies of threatened plants, such as this one, provide a framework for what and where to conserve.
Timothy Perez, Ph.D. candidate, will use his award to predict the susceptibility of tropical plants to climate change using Fairchild’s living collections. Tropical plants are believed to be close to their high-temperature thresholds and their heat tolerances (the temperatures that cause photosynthesis to fail) may help predict which species are most susceptible to climate change. Timothy’s research will harness the diversity of Fairchild’s living collections to measure the physical characteristics of leaves and photosynthetic heat tolerances to understand which species are in the greatest danger of thermal stress due to global warming. Tropical plants, particularly in the Caribbean, are of high conservation priority due to deforestation, land-use change, and climate change. Consequently, botanists are needed to advocate for the protection of tropical plants.
In order to encourage new cohorts of tropical botanists, these projects will involve undergraduate and high school interns in both of their projects.