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Claremont, CA, United States

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH COLLECTION | Award Amount: 126.39K | Year: 2016

Student Engagement in the Preservation of Historically Significant Collections at Rancho Santa Botanic Garden

Natural history collections offer a lens into the past and a means to envision the future. Collections are especially important in predicting biodiversity change with shifts in climate and land use. The Herbarium at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG) houses more than 1.2 million specimens and is heavily utilized for research, education, and public outreach. From multiple sources, the Herbarium acquired 30,000 plant specimens collected by ten significant 20th century botanists. 70% of these were collected from 15 of 34 designated world biodiversity hotspots; 30% represents the California Floristic Province biodiversity hotspot. These specimens are in critical need of curation owing to poor storage conditions. Several specimens have been identified as critical for describing and naming species new to science. Curation of these collections will provide physical access to collections currently unavailable for study, promote discovery of species new to science, and yield new distribution and phenology data. Importantly, curation will ensure critically needed preservation. Digitization efforts will provide access of this rich source of specimen data to researchers, students, and the public. Integral to the project are activities involving the participation of graduate students, undergraduates, and high school students. Notably, RSABG will expand on a successful undergraduate internship program by engaging underserved youth from the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. Especially targeted are at-risk and transitional aged youth at the high school level, who will be trained in a six-week summer junior intern program. All interns will participate in five workshops that will serve to connect students to collections, natural history, and biodiversity. An exhibit at RSABG will highlight the activities and student participation in the project.

As herbaria serve expanding needs for research, education, and conservation management, it is critical that collections of historic, taxonomic, and geographic significance are curated and digitized, ensuring their availability for research through investments in their long-term security. Through various sources, the Herbarium at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden acquired 30,000 vascular plant specimens of historic, taxonomic, and geographic importance representing the collections of ten significant botanists of the 20th century. These specimens are in danger of deterioration, owing to unsatisfactory past and current storage conditions (e.g., non-archival newspapers). Thus, these collections are in critical need of curation and improved storage to secure them for posterity. Several specimens have been identified as type material that was thought to have been lost. The principal objective of this three-year project is to curate and digitize these specimens through student participation. A large cadre of students at different levels in their academic career will participate in all aspects of the project, including specimen preparation, databasing, imaging, and georeferencing. Specimen data will become available for more than 18,000 species of vascular plants in ~350 families. All data resulting from this project will be shared with iDigBio, GBIF, the Consortium of California Herbaria, and the RSABG Herbarium web portal. Additional information about RSABG, its outreach activities, and the results of this project is available at http://www.rsabg.org.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Systematics & Biodiversity Sci | Award Amount: 10.27K | Year: 2012

Species in genus Pyrola section Scotophylla (part of the Heath family) grow in western North America and possess several intriguing life history attributes that vary among species and will be investigated for this study. These include a special strategy for retrieving nutrition directly from fungi (i.e., mycoheterotrophy), leaves that range from large and photosynthetic to minute and non-functional, and flowers that are buzz-pollinated by bumble bees yet retain the ability to self-pollinate in the absence of bees. At least two findings complicate our general understanding of how species in section Scotophylla achieved (and maintain) reproductive isolation. First, the identification of cryptic species within the complex suggests that different genetic lineages have converged on a very similar form. Second, hybridization among species has been detected at low frequencies in populations where species co-occur. In order to understand how gene flow relates to speciation and morphological diversity, this study focuses on the phylogeography (i.e., mapping geographic and genetic lineage histories) of section Scotophylla using DNA sequence information from plants across revised species ranges. Additionally, this study focuses on (1) understanding how mixed-mating systems contribute to gene flow and species diversity, (2) determining the causes of breakdown in reproductive isolation, and (3) understanding how timing in development has played a role in the evolution of leaf morphology, anatomy, and function in this mycoheterotrophic plant lineage.

This study will provide a revision of geographic ranges for species in section Scotophylla, the description of a new, cryptic species, and a contribution to ongoing discourse concerning how the recognition of cryptic species affects our interpretation of biological diversity. As fundamental, symbiotic elements of mature forest communities, mycoheterotrophic taxa like Pyrola serve effectively as indicators of ecosystem health, ultimately making ecology and evolution more accessible to a range of audiences. Understanding the evolutionary history of Pyrola lineages through time may ultimately change peoples? perceptions of both natural history and ongoing efforts by conservation biologists in western North America. Findings from this study will be available in peer-reviewed journals, at scientific conferences and in non-scientific forums, and as interpretive literature for students and teachers interested in natural history.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 14.99K | Year: 2012

The flowering plant family Sabiaceae comprises three genera and about 150 species of trees and shrubs that are distributed throughout the Neotropics and Southeast Asia. This group has not been subject to modern evolutionary research, and thus questions remain about the relationships among its members, as well as about the placement of the family among flowering plants. The main goal of this study is to generate a phylogenetic framework across taxonomic levels that will answer these questions and also allow the study of other aspects of the biology of the group, such as biogeography and the evolution of reproductive characters. To achieve this, modern methods, such as the comparison of gene sequences and phylogenetic dating using fossil information, will be used.

This study will generate data that will improve our understanding of a recalcitrant part of the angiosperm tree of life. Furthermore, this study will test biogeographic hypotheses that have been proposed for other groups of plants with similar disjunct distributions, and fossil-based dating will provide geological timeframes in which the divergence and evolution of the family took place.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: Biodiversity: Discov &Analysis | Award Amount: 309.98K | Year: 2014

This project combines new approaches and methods to understand evolutionary changes in flower color in a group of plants, Ruellia (Acanthaceae), with 200+ species in the Americas. The focus is on anthocyanins (the blue to red pigments that are the most important contributors of color in flowers). Cutting edge DNA sequencing approaches will be used to study the plant biochemical pathways that produce anthocyanins. These results will be placed in an evolutionary context to understand what happens when, for example, purple flowers evolve from red-flowered ancestors. The phylogeny or family tree of Ruellia will be reconstructed using novel molecular markers to be developed for this project; these markers will subsequently be useful to numerous other researchers.

Flowers are among the most common means by which people connect to nature: floral biology has great potential to engage broad audiences in science. This research is also important because it will shed light on the anthocyanins biochemical pathway. Anthocyanins contribute to numerous plant functions (e.g., pollinator and fruit disperser attraction, UV sunscreen, herbivore defense), and have also been linked to human health benefits (e.g., anti-cancer, -viral, -inflammatory, -arteriosclerosis activity; treatments for hypertension, vision disorders). Anthocyanins are common constituents of human diets, being found in frequently consumed fruits and vegetables. This research project will add substantially to knowledge of the genetic basis of anthocyanin production and will thus have implications for human health research.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: PHYLOGENETIC SYSTEMATICS | Award Amount: 18.51K | Year: 2015

Polyploidization (whole genome duplication) is, and likely was, instrumental in the diversification of flowering plants. Understanding how and why polyploidy occurs in flowering plants may provide critical insight into the interplay of adaptation and historic environmental changes like glaciation, volcanism, and global climate change. This research will provide an improved understanding of diversification in the Claytonia lanceolata species complex, which is critical for effective conservation and management of the habitats in which they grow. Cutting edge biochemical and computational techniques now allow us to better estimate evolutionary histories, and test hypotheses concerning the ecological, temporal, and geographic context of speciation. This research will increase our understanding of gene dispersal via seeds and pollen, gene sharing among species, and the influence of chromosome number variation on plant diversification. A better understanding of relict alpine communities in California will be an additional, important contribution. Scientific communication, public outreach and mentoring undergraduate students are integral parts of the project as well.

Polyploidy, potentially giving rise to species complexes, represents one of the fundamental processes in diversification and polyploids are important elements of plant communities across the globe. Preliminary study indicates that the Claytonia lanceolata species complex (Montiaceae), as currently circumscribed, is non-monophyletic and consists of many polyploid lineages inhabiting a variety of unique spatial and ecological conditions in the mountains of western North America. This project involves research into biogeography, chromosome evolution, niche diversification, and phylogeny of the C. lanceolata species complex and close relatives. The project investigates (1) abiotic and biotic habitat characteristics in the field to better understand mechanisms responsible for reproductive isolation, (2) chromosome number within and among populations using flow cytometry and chromosome counting methods to characterize potentially adaptive variation, (3) variation in vegetative characters using morphometrics to better develop hypotheses concerning selection acting on leaf and subterranean stem anatomy and morphology, and (4) patterns of inter-specific gene flow in sympatric populations using Next Generation Sequencing (RADseq) to understand the extent to which species are reproductively isolated. This research will result in a significant revision of our knowledge of species boundaries and their distributions in the C. lanceolata complex, in addition to the description of several taxa new to science.

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