With the start of the new year I thought it would be good to provide an update on some of my research activities over the last year or so. I’ve actually been up to quite a lot but I’ve been remiss at keeping up with my updates.
Late 2017 and early 2018 saw me focusing much work in the lab generating genetic data for my collaborative work with Dr. Rivas-Torres on the phylogeny and phylogeography of the Galapagos endemic Scalesia and my own work on Galapagos Amaranthaceae.
With the Spring of 2018 I started on a number of other projects and tasks. In May I assisted with monitoring of the species Pediocactus knowltonii, one of the rarest species of cactus in the United States occurring in northern New Mexico. I was asked to help with research to see if we can find a way to reverse the trend of declining numbers in its single natural population.
I also started assisting with a floristic survey of the BLM Sabinoso Wilderness in NE New Mexico with colleagues at San Juan College. The area is quite remote and not well known botanically making it fun to explore.
While collecting in Sabinoso I was fortunate enough to find a violet that I have been looking for. This is Viola retusa. The species had been described about 100 years ago from parts of the Great Plains but had later been put in synonymy under V. nephrophylla. My Ph.D. advisor and collaborator Dr. Harvey Ballard first thought this may be a distinct taxon and now that we can see the differences in habitat we can confirm it is. Further herbarium work has uncovered a few other occurrences in New Mexico as well.
Early summer saw me teaching my favorite course, Field Botany. This is an intensive 5-week class on the identification of native vascular plants of southwest Colorado. I had a great group of students who were eager to get out, hike through the mountains, and learn about plants. This year turned out to be rather difficult due to the drought conditions and the 416 and Burro Fires which broke out just north of Durango. These fires closed all access to public land for a while making our field work difficult but we were still able to make it all work and had a great class.
The drought this year also affected the start of another project. I received a contract from Mesa Verde National Park to perform a conservation genetic assessment of Astragalus schmolliae, a species endemic to the park that is a candidate for endangered species listing. We had planned extensive collections for this season but few plants emerged due to the very low snowpack during the winter. We were able to sample some and with a student to begin work to understand the phylogenetic history of this unique species. Fort Lewis picked up on our work and ran a short story on it. With the greater snowfall this year I’m expecting to be able to do the full assessment.
Mid-summer saw me attending the annual Botany meeting, this year in Minnesota. I presented three posters from work on another SW Colorado endemic in the genus Packera (Asteraceae), preliminary results on some of my Galapagos Amaranthaceae work on a fascinating group known as Lithophila, and an exposition of work with my colleague Amy Wendland from the Fort Lewis Department of Art and Design. She has been taking discarded herbarium specimens and creating a set of unique art works and we thought it would be fun to share these with the larger botanical community. And it was! This was probably my favorite poster ever to present at a scientific conference. I had no graphs, no p-values – it was great!
And since I’m on the topic of herbaria, this last year has also seen lots of progress made on digitization of the Fort Lewis College Herbarium via our participation under the National Science Foundation grant to organize the Southern Rockies Herbarium Consortium. Most of the photography work has been performed by student herbarium workers being paid from the grant and we are on track to have all of our 14,000+ vascular plant specimens fully digitized and databased by early 2019.
Before the start of the Fall semester I was able to get out on one collecting trip across New Mexico in support of my ongoing collaborative research on Quercus with Dr. Sean Hoban and Bethany Zumwalde at the Morton Arboretum. While we are principally focused on understanding the evolutionary history and population structure of Q. harvardii, our preliminary data is suggesting that other oak taxa may be involved via hybridization and we wanted to collect samples for our ongoing work.
Fall saw me mostly teaching but I did take a week off to head to Ecuador to attend the Latin American Botanical Congress in Quito. I presented the results of my preliminary work on Galapagos Amaranthaceae, including support for a new taxon and new endemic genus – the first endemic amaranth at the genus level in the islands. Stay tuned for more on this exciting finding – I’m working on the manuscript now!