April 24, 2014

Poem in Your Pocket Day: What’s in YOUR Pocket?

by Melissa Harding


“Poetry should…should strike the reader as a wording of his highest own thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.”
- John Keats

As promised, we are sharing some of our favorite poems for Poem in Your Pocket Day. If you have not found your own poem to share, we are happy to provide some examples! Of course, in keeping with the theme of connecting to nature, we wanted to share two of our favorite nature poems:

Grasshopper by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Of, if you are looking for something a little shorter:

XCVII by Emily Dickinson
To make a prairie it takes a clover
and one bee, -
One clover and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.

Once you have found your special poem, share it! You’ll be surprised how the power of poetry can transform your community.

If you would like to learn more about Poem in Your Pocket Day, read this post.

To read more about how poetry can help connect us to nature, check out this blog post.

The above photo was taken by Lisa Xu.


April 22, 2014

Making an Environmental Commitment to Our Children

by Melissa Harding


“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” – Fred Rogers

Earth Day is an annual reminder that as part of the natural world, it is our duty to be good stewards and help protect the planet on which we live. Not only does the Earth sustain us, but so too our children and their children – all future generations. Just as a community is only as healthy as its children, children are only as healthy as their environment. This space is dedicated to helping caregivers and educators create the next generation of successful, civically engaged citizens, a task largely made possible through creating connections with the people, places and green spaces that make up a community. Today is a good day to remember that we don’t conserve the environment for ourselves, but for those who come after us.

In honor of Earth Day, the US Environmental Protection Agency is offering the Pick 5 Challenge - commit to at least five actions to reduce your resource use and celebrate the natural world. Check out the excellent links in the list below and try to find some options that you and your family can commit to for the next year.

Choose from actions related to:

At Home and in the Garden
At Work
At School
While Shopping
In Your Community
On the Road

“One of the greatest dignities of humankind is that each successive generation is invested in the welfare of each new generation.” – Fred Rogers

The above photo was taken by Cory Doman.

April 21, 2014

Backyard Connections: Snuggling Up to Soil’s Construction Crew

by Melissa Harding


Spring is the perfect time to get out and explore your yard. There is so much to see and do; plants are sending out new shoots, birds are nesting and the grass is turning green. In short, spring is a time of transformation and you don’t want to miss it! Start off my looking down at your feet and even farther into the ground; though it may look brown and lifeless, soil is truly alive. It is an ecosystem all of it own, complete with producers, decomposers and everything in between.  At Phipps, one of our favorite soil citizens is the humble worm. While it may just look like a slimy tube, a worm is so much more than that.

The earthworms that you see crawling in your flower garden contribute to soil health by adding nutrients through their castings and aerating the ground by digging tunnels. Worms eat soil; or rather, they consume the soil and digest bacteria from individual particles. They take giants bites of the soil as they crawl along, creating tunnels wherever they go. Whatever they don’t digest is excreted out the other end as worm castings. If these little guys didn’t fill the ground with tunnels, the soil would become compacted; this means that there would be no room for air and water in the soil, which would put the other critters and plants in bad shape. Worms are essentially the soil’s construction crew, making sure that everyone underground has a home.


Worms are also one of the most interesting soil critters to study.  Grab a piece of newspaper, clear plastic lid, flashlight and spray bottle of water, because here are the steps to conducting a super fun worm study at home in your own backyard:

Look inside
Worms are transparent, which means that you can literally watch their organs working.  The best way to look inside a worm place it on a clear, plastic plate and shine a flashlight up through it. The worm won’t like this, but it won’t hurt it. Look for tube running down the middle of the worm, filled with dark granules. That is the digestive tract. Worms don’t have stomaches, but rather a crop and gizzard (like a bird). After it eat, it stores the food in a crop, which is a little sack. Its gizzard, which is another sack made full of stones the worm has swallowed, grinds the food down and passes it through the intestines where nutrients are absorbed. The dark granules are pieces of dirt that the worm has swallowed.

Another thing to look for are the five hearts; they are not shaped like human hearts, but rather are actually aortic arches. Worms have blood vessels that move blood through their bodies very close to the skin (which is why they look pink). Human hearts work with our lungs to pump air into our blood and blood through our bodies. Worms have no lungs, as they breathe through the skin, so what their hearts do instead is help them digest their food.

Heads or Tails?

If you try to look for a worm head, you may be a bit baffled. Worms do have a head and tail, but it can be hard to tell which end is which. Worms have no eyes, since they spend most of their time underground in the dark; instead, they sense vibrations in the soil. To find the head, you need to put your worm on the ground or on your plastic plate and then wait. The worm will start to crawl; the head will lead the body as it begins to move. This is the end with the mouth, or prostomium. This is hard to see with a magnifying glass. In fact, it can be hard to discern much of anything with your eyes. Your ears, however, can help you.

Put your worm on a small piece of newspaper and then bend your ear down to listen. You should hear little scratching noises; this is the sound of the worm’s setae against the paper. Setae are little bristles on the worm that help it move through the soil. If a worm wants to hold itself tight against the soil, it can jab its setae into the dirt. You can also feel them on the worm, like little bumps. Run your fingers down its underside; its feels smooth, you are moving towards the tail and it feels rough, you are moving towards the head.

Make a muscle

See those stripes on the outside of the worm? Those are muscles! Earthworms have no arms or legs. They have two sets of muscles; one that makes it long and the other one that makes it short. When they want to move, the earthworm will alternate the use of its long and short muscles, which allows its body to be pushed forward in the soil. These are great to find with a magnifying glass.

Egg Hunt

Look for a band in the middle of the worm. This is called the clitellum, which is where a worm lays its eggs. Worms are hermaphroditic, meaning they have both eggs and sperm inside of them. However, they still need to mate in order to preserve genetic diversity; two worms will join their clitella together and exchange sperm sacks. Each worm will use the other’s sperm to fertilize their own ovules, then they lay little yellow sacks of eggs. These egg sacks are very small, about the size of a pin head, so it can take some work to find one. If you do, you are in for a treat; look carefully and sometimes you can even see the embryo inside!

By this time, your worm is probably pretty tired. Make sure to put your new friend back someplace moist and dark – under a rock or a chuck of soil. It will find its own way back down under the ground.

A note on handling worms: worms are very sensitive to temperature, light and moisture. It is always important to handle them with moist hands and watch for signs of fatigue. They will start to stretch out and go limp; they’re not dead, but it is best to put them back and give them some time to rest in the dark.

If you enjoy studying the worms in your yard, grab a shovel and dig for more critters. Pill bugs, millipedes, centipedes, and ants are just a few of the organisms that you can find in a handful of dirt. Even better, get your magnifying glasses and explore the tiny hairs on plant roots and the white strands of mycelia scattered through the soil. There are over 1 million earthworms in an acre of soil, so get digging!

The above photos were taken by Phipps Science Education staff.

April 18, 2014

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow, Aurelie Jacquet

by Melissa Harding


 If there is one segment of society that is often misunderstood, it is people who work in science fields. Public perception of scientists tends to lean towards lab coats, crazy hair and beakers full of chemicals, especially in the eyes of children.  In reality, most scientists are just regular people who want to make the world a better place through scientific discovery. The best way to dispel the myth that scientists are boring or crazy is to get to know them; the purpose of this segment is to talk with real scientists to ask them what they love about their jobs and why they think their work is fun and important.

For our fifth installment in this series, we sat down with BIA Fellow Aurélie Jacquet. The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed, first, to excellent research, and second, to educational outreach. The BIA program provides Fellows with funding for use towards field research in the US or abroad and a trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to share his or her research to public audiences. Aurélie is in her second year as a BIA Fellow, studying the effects of medicinal plants on Parkinson’s Disease.

We interviewed Aurélie about her interests in medicinal plants and why studying science is important:

1. Describe your work.
My name is Aurélie Jacquet and I am a Ph.D student at Purdue University. I come from France and I have decided to do my research in the USA to discover a new culture and get the opportunity to make an impact in our world. As a kid I used to travel and spend a lot of time exploring outside, so my interest in bringing plant, people and science together may come from this period. I study the medicinal plants used in Nepalese and Native American traditional medicine to cure Parkinson’s disease. I visited various areas in Nepal as well as the Blackfeet (Montana) and Lumbee (North Carolina) tribes in the USA. In Nepal and in the USA, I interviewed  traditional healers as well as local people and collected plant samples. These samples are then analyzed in my lab to identify therapeutic activities. Parkinson’s disease is an age-related disorder and no therapies are currently available to cure this disease. This work aims at discovering plant-based therapeutics that would be easily available for people in Nepal and developing countries. Today, 80% of the people in the world use medicinal plants as primary source of health care and don’t have access to modern medicine. Discovering new plant-based therapies would critically impact people’s life by providing cost effective and sustainable medicines. On the other hand, this work could lead to the formulation of more modern drugs and impact our own lives and our families. We are all inhabitants of this world and we all have a role to play to make it better for now and the future.
2. Why did you become a scientist?
I became a scientist because since I was a teenager I was interested in studying how people use medicinal plants in traditional medicine. I believed we could study these herbs and make medicines for all.
3. What is your favorite part about being a scientist?
I like to be able to meet general audiences and explain why traditional medicine and herbs are important and need to be protected.
4. What is the most important quality in a scientist?
Be passionate and relentless. Science is not an easy and smooth path. There is always a lot of time spent in optimizing experiments and it takes a lot of time to obtain results, especially in biology and pharmacology.
5. What is the coolest thing you have ever done at work?
Last summer, I traveled to Montana to meet the Blackfeet tribe. As part of my ‘education’ and spiritual experience with the tribe, I was offered to smoke the sacred pipe! During this time, I was able to learn about the meaning of the plants used during ceremonies and rituals.
6. If you weren’t a scientist, what other job would you want to do?
I would be a nature photographer or reporter in developing countries.
7. What are your hobbies outside of your research?
Photography and hiking
8. Why is science important?
Science is important because it helps us understand the world around us, protect endangered species, preserve knowledge but also help design medicines to cure terrible diseases such as Parkinson’s disease or malaria.
9. Why is it important for kids to learn science?
It is important for kids to learn science for various reasons. First, it helps build a “scientific mind”, which is critical to be able to analyze information rationally. Secondly, science helps understand how the world functions around us. It can be learning about the various families of plants, butterflies or why the planets turn around the sun! Finally, I have been judge for the Lafayette Regional Science and Engineering fair for 2 years, and I listen to kids’ presentation about a scientific project they build and conducted. I believe that they enjoy being able to independently create and lead a project, present their results and draw conclusions. It helps them thinking independently and increases their self-confidence.

Aurélie is an example of a scientists drawn to their field by their desire to help others. Science for its own sake is great, but learning more about the world for the purpose of making it better is the very best use of scientific research.

To learn more about Aurélie’s work, check out her Follow the Fellows page on the Botany in Action Website.
To see more of Aurélie’s photography, check out her website!

The above photo was taken by Amanda Joy.

April 16, 2014

From the Ground Up: Crafting Cookbooks and Planting Plugs

by Melissa Harding


As part of the Museums Connect program, made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the American Alliance of Museums, Phipps is partnering with the Gidan Makama Museums in Kano, Nigeria to provide an immersive experience for 15 local high school students in each city. Participating students will learn about nutrition, cooking and cultural food traditions by following local food from farm to table and will be communicating with students at their partner institutions. This project will last from September to June, resulting in the creation of a community cookbook that will be designed and created by participating students. Students will also meet each month for a Saturday workshop involving activities designed to get them thinking critically about their food system and food culture. Calling themselves the Global Chefs, this group of students is excited to learn more about what food means in their lives.

As the Museums Connect project starts winding down to the final few months, the Global Chefs are moving towards thinking more about their final projects: the community feast they are planning with their Nigerian counterparts and the culturally-diverse cookbook they are creating. Last weekend, a beautiful day filled with sunshine and warm weather was on order and the students spent the day planting in our Edible Garden and working on their individual cookbook pages.

To begin, the students met with Phipps staffer Mike Bechtel, a display horticulturalist in the Edible Garden. Using the plans they created for their beds during the March workshops, the students planted plugs of cool weather crops that they had started from seeds in February. They planted Asian leafy greens, swiss chard, lettuce, beets and radishes. When harvested, some of these plants will be used for the Phipps Café and others for the community feast in May.

After planting, the students attended a two-hour workshop by Katy DeMint and Nora Gilchrist from the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse focusing on using repurposed items to create their individual cookbook pages. This book will contain recipes from the students and their families, many of which were recreated during the workshops throughout the year. When finished, it will be displayed both in Phipps upcoming Tropical Forest: Congo show and at the Gidan Makama Museums in Kano, Nigeria. The students also had a chance to create small books containing all of the recipes that cooked at the preceding workshops to take home with them.

Finally, the Global Chefs Skyped with their counterparts in Nigeria. Even though they did not have a workshop on the same day the our students, the Nigerians were so excited to talk to them that they all came in on their day off to do so. Once again, the Global Chefs had a great conversation with their Nigerian peers and are even more excited for their impending visit late this spring. Next month, the students will finish their cookbook pages and start preparations for the upcoming community feast.

To see more pictures from the workshop, check out the slideshow below.

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The above photos were taken by Kate Borger.

April 14, 2014

What’s Really Going on Inside a Chrysalis?

by Melissa Harding


This time of year is very busy for us, as hundreds of children come through our doors for their spring field trips to Phipps. Some of these students come for field trips about seeds, some about carnivorous plants, and some about the tropical rain forest. However, our most popular spring field trip by far is our butterflies program. In this program, students learn the life cycle of these critters, from egg to butterfly, and all about the wonderful ways that they are adapted to their short lives as pollinators. While this is a fun program, it also offers up a little bit of mystery. After all, how does a caterpillar come out of the chrysalis as a butterfly? What’s really going on in there? Enquiring student minds want to know.

Metamorphosis has always been a mystery. It’s pretty weird, if you think about. It’s so weird that scientists have been proposing oddball theories about why insects do it for centuries, seemingly trying to answer an impossible question. The most controversial of these theories comes from Liverpool zoologist Donald Williamson, who proposed that butterflies metamorphose because their origin stems from the ancient mating of a crawling animal and a winged animal, both of whose genes live on in the unfortunate insect today. While this sounds like science from 1900, Williamson’s paper was published in 2009. To explain this interesting theory best, we turn to Robert Krulwich, “…their genes never really integrated. They are sharing a DNA molecule like two folks sharing a car, except half way through the trip, one driver dissolves and up pops his totally different successor. Driver No. 2 emerges from the body of driver No. 1.”

If you think that this sounds more like a movie plot than science, you are not alone. What’s most interesting about this theory is that although most scientists think there is no credible evidence whatsoever to support it, William’s original paper has never been retracted. Whether it’s because the idea is so crazy that no one has bothered or because no one can truly discredit it, scientists can’t agree. However,  the recent date of its publication is further proof that the evolution of metamorphosis is baffling even to scientists!

While it may be weird, metamorphosis sure is popular. In fact, it is not just butterflies that undergo a complete metamorphosis to change from larva to adult. Flies, beetles, and ants also radically transform during the course of their lives. This is such a successful way of life, to be born in one form and end life another, that as many as 65 million of the animal species on the planet are metamorphosing insects. After an insect hatches from its egg, it is born as a larva. Larval forms vary by the type of insects; for butterflies, it’s a caterpillar, and for flies, it’s a headless maggot. After a suitable period of growth, all larvae encase themselves in some sort of material and pupate. It is during this time that they turn into their adult form.

So what’s going on in there? In the case of a caterpillar, we know that the larva releases enzymes that break down many of its tissues into their constituent proteins. We tell our students that this is a “caterpillar soup”, though that is a bit simplistic. While some of the larva dissolves, other parts stay intact. Organs stay put and muscles often dissolve into cells that can be repurposed. Science writer Ed Young compares this process to “a Lego sculpture decomposing into bricks”. Finally, some cells build the structures that will produce the adult body parts, called imaginal discs. There’s a pair for the antennae, a pair for the eyes, one for each wing, etc. According to Young, “…if the pupa contains a soup, it’s an organized broth full of chunky bits.”

This kind of knowledge comes from years of scientists taking a scalpel to hundred and thousands of pupae. Unfortunately, this means that metamorphosis is a mystery of science that students can’t truly investigate themselves. When they are raising butterflies at school, they can’t look inside the hanging chrysalids and find out what’s happening, but must wait until they emerge as adults. Fortunately for students and pupae-lovers everywhere, there is emerging technology allowing us to see what is going on inside the shell without using a knife. Micro-CT technology, in which X-rays capture cross-sections of an object that can be combined into a three-dimensional virtual model, is a new way for researchers to learn about pupae.   They can study the 3D models, rather than the real bugs, and see organs and body systems that they have previously been unable study. Additionally, rather than dissect pupae for a snapshot in time of their development, scientists can use this technology to watch their entire development as it happens. This technology can even be applied to learning how insects are affected by pesticides or how mutated genes affect development. However, the best use of this technology is that it allows students access to an unknown world, making the process of metamorphosis more real. After all, making science more real to students is how we get the next generations of scientists tomorrow.

To learn more about micro-CT technology and several specific research examples, check out this great article by Ed Young.

To read Robert Krulwich’s full article about the theories of Donald Williamson, click here.

Read more about the evolution of metamorphosis here.

 The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and interns.


April 9, 2014

2014 Botany in Action Fellows Announced!

by Melissa Harding


The 2014 Botany in Action Fellows have been selected!

The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed both to excellent research and educational outreach. Open to PhD students enrolled at US graduate institutions and conducting plant-based scientific field research, the BIA program provides Fellows with funding for use towards field research in the US or abroad and a trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to share his or her research with a broad range of public audiences.

Here are the 2014 Fellows; some are returning and some are brand new:

Jacquet head photoAURELIE JACQUET, Purdue University (IN).  Neuroprotective activities of Nepalese and Native American traditional medicines in Parkinson’s disease. (Nepal and United States). related symptoms. We overall documented more than 300 uses, but we need to spend more time with the Lumbee people to provide a more complete overview of their medicine. Because herbal medicine is sacred and secret among people of the tribe, information about these practices is only shared after a trust relationship is established between the healer and the researcher. Our central hypothesis is that the plants used in Nepalese and Native American traditional medicines have a high potential to alleviate neuron death and changes in brain cells associated with PD. We collected medicinal plants and are conducting controlled tests to determine the safety and therapeutic efficacy of the samples.
Our research contributes to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal #1 “Eradicate poverty and hunger” through generation of knowledge capable of initiating new discussions in the field of public health policy, and the preservation of traditional practices.
Research Advisor: Jean-Christophe Rochet, Associate Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Purdue University.

Learn more about Aurelie and her research here.

Johnson_HeadshotANNA JOHNSON, University of Maryland Baltimore County (MD), Biodiversity in the City: the Interactive Effects of Land-Use Legacies and Environmental Gradients on the Diversity of Fragmented Urban Plant Communities (MD). While most of the global human population lives in cities, our urban ecosystems remain one of the more understudied environments from the perspective of ecological science. We rely on the plants that grow in cities to provide services to the human population such as cooling and cleaning the air and making our neighborhoods more beautiful. We know relatively little, however, about what factors are most important for creating the patterns of urban plant diversity that we observe. This project explores how history of land-use in vacant lots affects the plants that grow there today and tests a restoration strategy for increasing urban plant diversity. I previously have conducted surveys of existing plant diversity in vacant lots in Baltimore, MD, USA. I found that in these vacant lots, there was more variation in plant diversity within areas that were remnant backyards than within the areas of the lots where buildings previously stood. I plan to expand these results to study whether the effects of different legacies of land-use on plant diversity change predictably over time, by collecting property records and reconstructing the history of when each house was abandoned and demolished. This will result in a description of what happens to abandoned urban land without human intervention. I will also collect data from a two-year long field experiment that experimentally increased the diversity of native wildflowers in “weedy” plant communities. I will use what is learned from this smaller experiment to guide a similar experimental restoration plan for entire vacant lots.
Research Advisor: Christopher M. Swan, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Department of Geography & Environmental Systems University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Learn more about Anna and her research here.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKELLY KSIAZEK, Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden (IL). The influence of seed and pollen movement on the diversity of green roof plant populations(IL). The conversion of natural land to cities means that more plants and animals need to live alongside people. Special rooftop gardens, called green roofs, could include plant species that have lost their normal living spaces on the ground. If plants are able to live successfully on green roofs, they could provide resources like food and nesting materials to many insects and birds. However, green roofs, like other urban gardens, tend to be located far away from each other. Spaces between the roofs might not be good places for plants and animals to live, causing green roofs to act like isolated islands throughout a city. If plants on green roofs are not connected to other plant populations, inbreeding can occur between a few closely related individuals. Over time, this could mean that all individuals on a green roof were related and would share the same inability to respond to stressful situations like droughts.
However, if green roofs received seeds and pollen from other locations, the plants could have a greater ability to adapt to changes in the environment. To date, little is known about how green roof plant populations are connected with plants in other habitats throughout cities. My research will determine the characteristics of plants that allow them to get to new green roofs and will compare the movement of pollen on green roofs to a typical natural habitat. Results of this research will allow future green roofs to be designed to support diverse and resilient groups of plants.
Research Advisor: Krissa Skogen, PhD Conservation Scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden and Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University.

Learn more about Kelly and her research here.

Murphy_headshotSTEPHEN J MURPHY, The Ohio State University (OH). Forest landscape change in southwestern Pennsylvania (PA). A common misconception is that forests are static entities, remaining relatively unchanged through time unless subjected to a severe disturbance such as fire or logging. In reality, forests are constantly changing as certain species increase in abundance, others decrease, and yet others remain stable over time. Understanding this dynamic nature of forests is extremely important for predicting how they will look in the future, because changes in species composition can influence the types and values of services that these ecosystems provide. For example, the availability of suitable habitat for wildlife could be impacted, the types of nutrient input from litter could shift, or the types of timber that will be available for commercial purposes could change.
An existing series of forest plots established at Powdermill Nature Reserve offers a unique opportunity to study such changes in the forested landscape of southwestern Pennsylvania. I propose to resample a subset of these existing plots to determine how the number of species, the abundances of those species, and their overall sizes, has changed over a period of six years. Because significant changes in other forests throughout the eastern United States have been documented previously, I expect that the forests of southwestern Pennsylvania will also experience similar dynamism. Specifically, I expect to observe a decrease in drought-tolerant individuals, and an increase in moisture loving species. And because areas of the reserve are still recovering from past human land-use impacts, I expect to see an increase in the overall biomass of the forest.
Research Advisor: Liza S Comita, Assistant Professor, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University.

cromulo_headshot2CHELSIE ROMULO, George Mason University (VA). Working to conserve and sustainably manage the ecologically, culturally, and economically important palm tree Mauritia flexuosa (aguaje) in the Peruvian Amazon (Peru). The aguaje palm tree (Mauritia flexuosa) covers approximately 10% of the Peruvian Amazon. Its fruit supports many different animal species in the Amazon rainforest, including tapirs, primates, peccaries, birds, turtles and fish. The fruit of this tree is harvested from the wild and sold in the city of Iquitos, which is the largest city and commercial center of the Peruvian Amazon. The most common harvest method is cutting down the tree, even though alternative climbing methods are available. Despite the long-term benefits of using sustainable harvesting techniques, future paybacks can seem irrelevant to people who have difficulty meeting their daily survival needs. My dissertation research proposes to combine an evaluation of tree distribution with interviews of people along the market chain to better understand the current conservation challenges surrounding aguaje. I want to understand the motivation of people who harvest and sell the fruit of this palm and review how the distribution of the tree has changed over the past 25 years. The changes in tree distribution over time will be evaluated using satellite images from the NASA Landsat program, which go back to 1972. With a better understanding of the consequences of current harvest and the perspectives of the people involved in the market I will produce recommendations for the conservation and sustainable management of this threatened palm and the forest.
Research Advisor: Dr. Michael Gilmore, Assistant Professor of Life Sciences/Integrative Studies. New Century College, George Mason University.

 Turner_headshotJESSICA B. TURNER, West Virginia University (WV),  The Root of Sustainability: Understanding and implementing medicinal plant conservation strategies in the face of land-use change in Appalachia (WV). American ginseng is a valuable medicinal plant that is culturally important worldwide. Ginseng is harvested by people in Appalachia and sold on the international market. Through human activity, ginseng’s habitat is being reduced; much of this land-use change is due to surface mining. How land was used historically can influence how well a plant grows and reproduces. My research studies the relationship between ginseng and surface mining, both from the ecosystem and social science perspective: (1) Can ginseng, and another medicinal plant, goldenseal, grow just as well on land that was previously surface-mined, as compared to forests with other types of land-use history? Through this reintroduction study, I will understand, depending on how well these plants grow, if previously mined-lands are lost as potential medicinal plant habitat, or if people could grow medicinal plants on previously mined lands. (2) How do people in Appalachia view surface mining and ginseng conservation? Through surveys, I will learn if people in both the Appalachian and ginseng harvester communities prioritize the forest and practice conservation. I will also be able to assess if attitudes toward surface mining effects might be different if restoration of medicinal plants was possible. By researching how people think about ginseng and surface mining, I can develop environmental education based on the community’s perspective of ginseng conservation. Understanding the impacts of surface mining on the role of ginseng in the forests, as well as the culture in Appalachia, will provide a basis for how people can conserve medicinal plants. Research Advisor: James B. McGraw, PhD, Eberly Professor of Biology, West Virginia University.

Learn more about Jessica and her research here.

Please join us in welcoming these wonderful Fellows and their exciting research to the Botany in Action program!

The above photos are courtesy of the 2014 BIA Fellows.


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