Travelogue

Forest Primeval: Trekking Through Myanmar’s Northern Forest Complex

Posted in From the Field, Travelogue on April 11th, 2016 by Stevenson Swanson – Be the first to comment

Stevenson Swanson is the Science Media Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.


Gatthu Myanmar NYBG Science

Setting out, uphill, from Gatthu village on the first day of the trek

Last fall, when the leaves were turning golden yellow and bright red in The New York Botanical Garden’s old-growth forest, two Botanical Garden scientists were on the other side of the world, trekking through a very different old-growth forest in northern Myanmar.

The scientists—Kate Armstrong, Ph.D., Myanmar Program Coordinator in the Institute of Systematic Botany, and Damon P. Little, Ph.D., Associate Curator of Bioinformatics in the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics—are part of a major Garden research program to discover and document Myanmar’s botanical diversity, build the country’s capacity to carry out plant research, and promote the sustainable use of its forests.

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Myanmar by the Numbers

Posted in Travelogue on January 11th, 2016 by Kate Armstrong – Be the first to comment

Kate Armstrong, Ph.D., is Myanmar Program Coordinator in the New York Botanical Garden’s Institute of Systematic Botany. Damon P. Little, Ph.D., is Associate Curator of Bioinformatics in the Botanical Garden’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics.


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Myanmar is a major biodiversity hotspot, yet its flora is probably the least studied in the Northern Hemisphere. As the country emerges from decades of isolation and political upheaval, The New York Botanical Garden is working to document Myanmar’s undiscovered plant life, build the country’s capacity to carry out plant research, and promote the sustainable use of its forests.

We recently returned from a collecting expedition to Hkakaborazi National Park in Kachin State, which borders China. The park, in the far northern part of the country, covers nearly 1,500 square miles of mountainous forest.

To reach it, we first flew to Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. From there, we took a turboprop to Putao, the northernmost town in Kachin State, and then motorcycles to a small village. After that, we walked.
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Cuba Conference: Aiming For a New Model of Sustainable and Equitable Development

Posted in Travelogue on July 29th, 2015 by Brian Boom – Be the first to comment

Brian M. Boom, Ph.D., is Vice President for Conservation Strategy, Director of NYBG Press and Science Outreach, and Bassett Maguire Curator of Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. The flora of Cuba is one of his research specialties.


The title of this post reflects the overarching theme of an international conference on the environment and development that was held recently in Havana, Cuba. I attended as a delegate from The New York Botanical Garden, making a presentation on novel methods to accelerate the conservation assessment of plant species so that plants can figure more centrally in the designation of new Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). I will write about these methods and KBAs later. For now, I wanted to report on the palpable energy and enthusiasm, both in tone and substance, for the diverse topics and perspectives on display in Havana during the week.

Cubambiente

This conference played out against the backdrop of a new era in the relationship between Cuba and the U.S., with a great many new implications for development and the environment in Cuba. The conference’s highlighting of development as a process that should be sustainable and equitable refers to the need for development to be fair for both developed and less developed nations. Hundreds of delegates from some two dozen countries made presentations and engaged in debates on more than a dozen themes such as protected natural areas, biodiversity and management of ecosystems, environmental justice, environmental education, natural history museums, and climate change. The Spanish program of the conference and the abstracts of presentations can be accessed here.
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Every Bush Has a Use, Every Bush Has a Meaning

Posted in Travelogue on July 20th, 2015 by Ina Vandebroek – Be the first to comment

Ina Vandebroek, Ph.D., is the Matthew Calbraith Perry Assistant Curator of Economic Botany and Director of the Caribbean Program at The New York Botanical Garden. An ethnomedical research specialist, she studies people’s cultural knowledge, beliefs, and practices related to traditional medicine.


Portland Parrish

A walk in the close surroundings of the community, showing the green beauty of Portland parish.

It was my last interview during one of my ethnobotanical field trips to a farming community in the lush northeast parish of Portland in Jamaica. I sat on the porch of the home of Faye, a female farmer, while the sun was setting behind the beautiful John Crow Mountains that surround the community. We looked at a set of pictures on my laptop. They were photos of plants growing in and around the community. For each one, I asked Faye if she knew the plant’s local name (or names) and its cultural uses, especially for healthcare. In rural Jamaica, people still rely greatly on wild plants (or, as they say in Jamaican patois, “bush”). They use many of these plants to treat ill health or enjoy them as a cup of tea in the morning to stay strong and energized.

Interviewing people is a standard method in ethnobotanical research. Through individual interviews with several people in the community who self-medicate with “bush medicines,” I am hoping to develop a database of locally useful plants and to understand the myriad of ways in which these plants are used. I am also trying to find out which bush plants people know best, and who is especially knowledgeable about them. These data can be used to compare culturally important plants and popularly known medicinal uses for them across several Caribbean countries. The ultimate goal is to give back that information to the community, so that these precious oral traditions do not disappear.
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Digitizing in the Dominican Republic

Posted in From the Field, Travelogue on April 23rd, 2015 by Stephen Gottschalk – Be the first to comment

Stephen Gottschalk, a former Project Coordinator for the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, is now a graduate student in the Commodore Matthew Perry Graduate Studies Program at The New York Botanical Garden.


Stephen Gottschalk field books Science Talk Herbarium

The NYBG team at work in the Dominican Republic

Though many botanists specialize in Caribbean flora, few have so thoroughly documented the plant life of a single island, especially a large one, as has Thomas Zanoni, Ph.D., who lived and worked in the Dominican Republic for 13 years. His collections number in the tens of thousands and come from nearly every corner of Hispaniola, which comprises the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Last year, my colleagues Stella Sylva and Brandy Watts and I traveled to the Dominican Republic to work on a project at the Dr. Rafael M. Moscoso National Botanical Garden (Jardín Botánico Nacional Dr. Rafael M. Moscoso) in Santo Domingo. Our purpose was to image the field books of Dr. Zanoni.

Making a collection as large as Dr. Zanoni’s digitally available to botanists across the globe is challenging. If one person were to work 40 hours a week typing out the information on each of his specimen labels, the job would likely take more than a year. Of course, that doesn’t include the time it would take to first find each of Dr. Zanoni’s 30,000-plus specimens, which are dispersed throughout not only our 7.4-million-specimen William and Lynda Steere Herbarium but also herbaria in other countries. read more »

Sorting Out the Family Trees of Some Vietnamese Trees—Part Two

Posted in From the Field, Travelogue on March 6th, 2015 by Douglas Daly – 1 Comment

Douglas C. Daly, Ph.D., is the Director of the Institute of Systematic Botany and the B. A. Krukoff Curator of Amazonian Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. Among his research activities, he is a specialist in the Burseraceae (frankincense and myrrh) family of plants.


Bursera tonkinensis_habitat1. Forest on steep slope of karst mountain in Cuc Phuong National Park.

Bursera tonkinensis habitat. Forest on steep slope of karst mountain in Cuc Phuong National Park.

In my previous post about a 3,700-mile expedition through nine provinces in Vietnam, I covered some of the interesting species of the Anacardiaceae (or sumac and cashew family) that my four colleagues and I encountered. But that was only one of the two closely related plant families for which we were searching.
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A World Within an Island: Exploring the Many Habitats of Central Cuba, Part Two

Posted in From the Field, Travelogue on December 30th, 2014 by Benjamin Torke – Be the first to comment

Benjamin M. Torke, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator at the Garden’s Institute of Systematic Botany. His specialty is legumes, a large plant family that includes not only beans and peanuts but also hundreds of rain forest tree species.


Julio León Yoira Rivera Queralta Behaimia cubensis

Julio León and Yoira Rivera Queralta encounter a single individual of the exceptionally rare Cuban endemic tree, Behaimia cubensis

Editor’s Note: President Obama’s recent announcement that the U.S. will normalize its relationship with Cuba has focused attention once again on Cuba, an island nation where scientists from The New York Botanical Garden have conducted expeditions and scientific research for more than a century. In this two-part series, a Botanical Garden scientist describes his recent two-week field trip to Cuba, part of an ongoing effort to discover and document the island’s richly varied plant life.

For the next leg of my August field trip to central Cuba, my colleagues and I traveled to the city of Cienfuegos on the southern coast. In Cienfuegos, we were joined by Julio León of the Botanical Garden of Cienfuegos, an expert on the flora of Cienfuegos Province. Julio took us to several highly productive collecting sites.

One of the most interesting habitats was the transition zone between a karst slope and a coastal mangrove swamp. Here we encountered one of the best finds of the whole trip, an individual of Behaimia cubensis, a very rare Cuban tree which is the only species of its genus. The evolutionary affinities of Behaimia are currently unknown, so I was very excited to collect material that could be used for DNA analysis.
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A World Within an Island: Exploring the Many Habitats of Central Cuba, Part One

Posted in Travelogue on December 23rd, 2014 by Benjamin Torke – Be the first to comment

Benjamin M. Torke, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator at the Garden’s Institute of Systematic Botany. His specialty is legumes, a large plant family that includes not only beans and peanuts but also hundreds of rain forest tree species.


Editor’s Note: President Obama’s recent announcement that the U.S. will normalize its relationship with Cuba has focused attention once again on Cuba, an island nation where scientists from The New York Botanical Garden have conducted expeditions and scientific research for more than a century. In this two-part series, a Botanical Garden scientist describes his recent two-week field trip to Cuba, part of an ongoing effort to discover and document the island’s richly varied plant life.

Caesalpinia pauciflora, an uncommon species of the bean family.

Caesalpinia pauciflora, an uncommon species of the bean family

Earlier this year, I participated in a botanical expedition to Central Cuba. The purpose of the two-week trip was to visit a variety of natural habitats in that part of Cuba, an area with a diverse but understudied plant flora, and to collect herbarium specimens and samples for DNA studies of targeted species.

About half of Cuban plant species are endemic, meaning they occur only there, and many of them are highly endangered. The fieldwork would contribute to ongoing efforts to assess the current geographical distributions and conservation status of Cuban plant species and would provide critical material for studies on the systematics of particular plant groups. As The New York Botanical Garden’s curator of the legume family, Fabaceae, also known as the bean or pea family, I was particularly interested in collecting some rare and endemic species of beans.
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Exploring the Mountains of Eastern Cuba, Part 3

Posted in Travelogue on June 9th, 2014 by Fabian Michelangeli – Be the first to comment

Fabian A. Michelangeli, Ph.D, is an Associate Curator of the Institute of Systematic Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. His research focuses in part on the evolution, identification, and classification of neotropical plants.


In this last post about Cuban Johnny berries and meadow beauties, I want to show some of the species found in the northeastern part of the island. The mountain ranges in this area—the Sierra de Moa, Baracoa, Nipe and Cristal—are all rich in minerals and have unique soils that contain high concentrations of metals. These metals are toxic for many plants, but this plant family, the Melastomataceae, has adapted to these conditions.

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Calycogonium glabratum, Miconia baracosensis, Miconia uninervis, Ossaea moensis, and Ossaea puciflora are not closely related, but they have all evolved small, hard leaves as an adaptation to the high toxicity of the soils they inhabit.
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From the Field: Bill Buck in Cape Horn 2014, Part 14

Posted in Travelogue on May 27th, 2014 by Bill Buck – 1 Comment

William R. Buck, Ph.D., is the Mary Flagler Cary Curator of Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. Every January for the past three years, Dr. Buck, a moss specialist, and a team of colleagues have journeyed to the Cape Horn region at the southern tip of South America to document the area’s rich diversity of mosses and search for new species. This is the last in his series of posts about his 2014 field trip.


January 30, 2014; Punta Arenas, Chile

Bill Buck

Bill Buck

The trip is all but over. We arrived in Punta Arenas at midnight between the 27th and 28th, almost a day early. I asked Ernesto Davis to phone ahead and see if our hotel reservation could be updated. After a rough night the day before, everyone was ready for stable beds and hot showers. Fortunately, the hotel had space and our rooms were ready when we arrived, luggage in hand.

We returned to the ship early the next morning to gather our collections. The entire crew was in attendance when we arrived at the trusty Doña Pilar. We still had specimens on the dryers and promptly started dealing with them. There was little wind, so I was able to close up my paper bags on the deck. Every last one of my collections was completely dry. Everyone else still had damp specimens that would need additional time before being packed up.

Early in the expedition, I asked the crew if, after our trip, I might have the small Magellanic flag that the Doña Pilar flew. Ships on previous expeditions only flew the Chilean flag, which I asked for and received during our last trip. Perhaps they hadn’t flown the Magellanic flag because the captain was from further north, in Chiloé. Regardless, I was delighted when this year’s captain presented me with the tattered flag that had flown over the ship that had served us so well. I collect flags, in part as a true souvenir of my collecting localities. Some hold special memories. I will proudly display this one in my New York office.
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