Biodiversity and Floristics

The researchers and Resident Research Associates of BRIT conduct botanical research around the world, documenting the diversity of plant life from Texas to the Philippines. Their research is reported in academic journals and other publications such as monographs and regional floras and field guides.

Current Research

Ferns of Colombia

Colombia is estimated to harbor the highest fern diversity of any Neotropical country, with more than 1600 native fern species currently documented.

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Biosurveys / BioBlitzes

Biosurveys are an important research activity used to document the biodiversity of an area. It is these baseline surveys that allow us to better understand how natural and human influences change an environment over time. During biosurveys, we also collect specimens which we identify, mount on archival paper, and deposit in the BRIT herbarium. These specimens are often collected in duplicate so they can be exchanged with herbaria worldwide, which enhances the availability of research material in the BRIT herbarium and herbaria of our exchange partners.

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Illustrated Texas Floras Project

This book series published by BRIT provides a detailed and fully illustrated inventory of native and naturalized plant species for major regions of Texas. These floras provide solid science as well as information vital to user communities including ranchers, foresters, farmers, Agricultural Extension Agents, horticultural producers, Master Gardeners, homeowners, and developers. Dr. George Diggs (Austin College) is primary author, with BRIT associates Barney Lipscomb, Robert O’Kennon, and Robert George (Project Coordinator), and Monique Dubrule Reed (Texas A&M).

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Prairie Research Program

The Prairie Research Program (PReP) includes projects related to natural resource management, ecology, native vegetation, and stewardship of prairie and rangeland habitats. We collaborate with landowners to investigate plant biodiversity metrics, often associated with disturbance events (past and present).

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Lichen Systematics

As models for symbiosis, lichens contain many completely unrelated associates with separate evolutionary histories. Lichen systematics can therefore produce phylogenies that reconstruct the history of the fungal partner, the photosynthetic partner, or from other microorganisms.

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Lichen Microbiome

Our understanding of microbiome diversity and functionality in organisms and systems has rapidly advanced as new technologies have been developed and have become more accessible. Lichens have been the subject of these studies for over a decade now, but there is still much left to do.

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Lichen Genomics

The study of distinct lineages as part of the lichen symbiosis opens a myriad of interesting and yet to be explored questions. A few that I am interested are regarding Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) among the symbionts and detecting genes responsible for lichenization in Basidiomycota.

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Taxonomy and Systematics of Ferns and Lycophytes

We are interested in what the species of ferns and lycophytes are and where they occur—something often poorly known for tropical species—and the evolutionary relationships among the species. We generate phylogenetic trees based on DNA sequences that show how the species are related and use the trees as a framework for answering questions about character evolution, biogeography, and evolutionary processes.

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Evolution and Development of Leaves

The evolution of leaves changed life on Earth. We study the expression and phylogeny of leaf development genes in lycophytes and ferns to better understand the evolution and development of leaves in the land plants.

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Plant Diversity & Evolution in Madagascar

Madagascar is one of the world’s hottest biodiversity hotspots, home to an incredibly diverse and endemic flora. Much of my research is focused here, where I am interested in understanding the evolution of plant diversity in the ecological and geographic context. My work uses phylogenomic tools to elucidate rapid radiations in the myrrh genus, Commiphora (Burseraceae) and more broadly in endemic lineages from the sunflower family (Asteraceae). These lineages are also characterized by disjunct distributions in South America and I’m interested in comparing diversification strategies in dry and seasonally dry tropical forests found here.

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Plant Discovery in the Southern Philippines

The Philippines archipelago contains unique floral and faunal diversity that is critically threatened by habitat loss, with only 3-7% of original habitat remaining. To address the urgent need for further documenting this diversity in the face of impending large-scale species extinction, I am working with colleagues from the U.S. and the Philippines on a four-year project to document the land plants and lichens of the southern Philippines through a series of large field expeditions and subsequent taxonomic study. T

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Ericales Program Overview

The plant order Ericales contains ca. 8000 species of flowering plants distributed in 22 families. The order contains a number of economically important edible plants, including tea (Camellia sinensis), kiwi (Actinidia), persimmon (Diospyros), Brazil nut (Bertholettia excelsa), star-apple (Chrysophyllum cainito), and blueberries and cranberries (Vaccinium), as well as popular ornamental plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons (Rhododendron), primroses (Primula), Impatiens, Erica, Phlox, and Camellia.

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The Global Genome Initiative for Gardens (GGI-Gardens)

Natural history collections play an increasingly vital role in biodiversity studies. Much of the research that leverages these collections combines this accumulated diversity knowledge with genomic approaches. There is a movement toward improved collection practices that incorporate resources that can be used in genomics research.

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Past Research

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a 1,643 acre property owned by the state of Texas and managed for wildlife and tourism. The land was purchased from private landowner Charles Moss by the Nature Conservancy of Texas in 1978 and was later sold to the state of Texas. The park opened as a state natural area in 1978. Prior to its acquisition by the Nature Conservancy, the property was held by several private landowners and used for cattle ranching and tourism.

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TEARS

Since 2013, BRIT has invested in a program to document plant biodiversity in the Southern Appalachians. In the most recent project of this effort, BRIT research associates Devin Rodgers and Chris Mausert-Mooney, led by BRIT botanical explorer Dwayne Estes, are piloting an effort to provide critical vegetation data so that researchers can investigate the long-term effects of climate change, invasive species, and acid rain on the ecology of high-elevation ecosystems in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This project will monitor high-quality brook trout streams and document the riparian vegetation of four watersheds in east Tennessee. It emphasizes the important connection between vegetation and broader ecosystem conservation.

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Pennyroyal Plain Prairie Restoration Project

Researcher Dwayne Estes is leading efforts to restore the imperiled tallgrass prairies of central and western Kentucky and Tennessee through his Pennyroyal Plain Prairie Restoration Project (PPPRP). Prior to 1800, these prairies covered 3.7 million acres and supported bison and prairie chickens. Today, nearly 99.9% of the prairie has been destoryed; the last remnants can be found at Fort Campbell Army Base near Clarksville, TN. Estes has built a coalition of state and federal agencies, private corporations and businesses, and local and state leaders to help restore the 300 acres of prairie remnants on public land, using seed from the prairie at Fort Campbell, and to search for privately owned prairie remnants and work to secure those prairies from further loss.

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