Dr. Tatyana Livshultz
Assistant Curator of Botany
Interests: Systematics of Apocynaceae
Ph.D. Cornell University 2003
Every multi-cellular organism begins as a single cell that then undergoes a coordinated process of development to reach its mature form. Evolution has continuously reshaped this process to produce the diversity of plant and animal species we see around us today. The fundamental question I’m interested in is how developmental programs are modified through evolutionary time to produce novel and complex forms. My focus is on the Apocynaceae, the milkweed and dogbane family, a group of ca. 4000 species of flowering plants. The milkweed flower is among the most complex, comparable only to that of the orchid in the modification of its form and the precision of its pollination mechanism. Flowers of dogbanes are simpler, although there are also species with flowers of intermediate complexity. I’m using methods including evolutionary tree reconstruction and comparative development to understand how the complex milkweed flower evolved from the simpler flower of a dogbane-like ancestor.
I’m also studying the evolution and species diversity of the genus Dischidia, a group of about 80 species from Southeast Asia that have evolved a symbiotic relationship with ants including some remarkable chemical and morphological modifications that function in this relationship. Species of Dischidia have ant-attractive seeds, inducing the ants to collect them, and some also modified leaves that function as ant houses.
As curator of the PH herbarium, one of my priorities is to develop databases that allow researchers to easily access information from herbarium specimens to track changes in plant distributions, flowering times, and associations. These data are fundamental to helping us understand the unprecedented global change that we are experiencing today. As one of the oldest herbaria in North America, with specimens dating to the 18th century, the Academy’s collection represents a uniquely long record of plants over time. The information contained in these specimens is currently difficult to use since it is distributed among a million plus individual samples. Assembling this information into a database where it can be easily accessed and queried will help reveal how our environment has been changing over the past 300 years.
Dr. Richard McCourt
Associate Curator of Botany
Interests: Algal systematics, historical botany
Ph.D. University of Arizona.
I do research on the evolution and systematics of green algae, specifically a group known as charophyte algae. These are the green algae that are the closest living relatives of land plants and include some well-known algae such as Spirogyra and stoneworts. I'm interested in understanding the phylogeny of these algae-that is, their evolutionary relationships with other algae and with land plants. I'm interested to know what were the evolutionary events that allowed the descendants of charophyte algae to emerge from their habitats in freshwater ponds onto land. For details, see the Academy news website and my Personal Research website.
I also work on the Lewis and Clark Herbarium at the Academy, and with Earle E. Spamer have co-authored a Special Publication CD-ROM and other publications on the Lewis and Clark Herbarium. I have worked at the Academy since 1997. Before that I was an Associate Professor at DePaul University in Chicago, where I taught ecology, evolution, and introductory biology.
Dr. John Hall
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Interests: Systematics and evolution of green algae
Ph.D. University of Maryland 2007
My research focuses on systematics of green algae. I use molecular phylogenetic methods to determine evolutionary relationships among the green algae most closely related to land plants (charophytes). I am also interested in the biology and evolution of the conjugating green algae (Zygnematophyceae), a species-rich lineage of freshwater organisms that includes the desmids. Thousands of species have been described in this group, but very few have been thoroughly examined in a molecular phylogenetic framework. These phylogenetic studies shed light on the origin and evolution of growth habit and developmental processes. I am particularly interested in the evolution of multicellularity and the process of cell division.
Much of this research depends on field-collected material. Consequently, I am also involved in a number of floristic studies. I have studied freshwater algae from many different countries and several US states.
Alina Freire-Fierro, M. S.
Interests: Systematics of Neotropical Polygalaceae, Monnina in particular; Andean flora
M. S., University of Missouri-St. Louis, M. emC. Universidade de Sao Paulo.
My research is focused on Neotropical Polygalaceae, in particular Monnina, as well as Ecuadorian Saxifragaceae s.l. and neotropical floristics. During my studies and career, I have done extensive fieldwork in the Andean region of Ecuador, as well as in the Campos rupestres of Brazil. I have also done field trips to Bolivia and Costa Rica. My morphological research, and molecular studies suggest that Monnina is a monophyletic group with a high variability in habit (herbs to small trees) and fruit morphology (drupes to samaras). The papilionaceous flowers are very similar, except for two species endemic to northeastern Brazil that exhibit flowers very different.
Besides the revision of Monnina, I have been working with floristic treatments of Polygalaceae from Bolivia, Antioquia (Colombia), and the Southern Cone. I have recently started working at the Academy. Before that, I was a Research Specialist at the Missouri Botanical Garden (www.mobot.org), where I am now a Research Associate.
Throughout my career I have met many colleagues from Latin American and, in order to facilitate communication within the community, I have created and administer the discussion group Anuncios Botanicos (espanol.groups.yahoo.com/ group/Anunciosbotanicos/).
Dr. Alfred E. (Ernie) Schuyler
Interests: Historic American botanical collections; historic botanical literature and art.
Ph.D. (University of Michigan).
My present research interests are in the (1) systematics and ecology of rare plant species, (2) relationships between plant diversity and environmental quality, and (3) history of botanical exploration in North America. I also teach university, college, and adult education courses in plant systematics, ecology, and environmental issues.
Ms. Elana Benamy M.S.
My academic background is in invertebrate paleontology and museum studies (MS in Geology and Certificate in Museum Studies, both from the University of Delaware). I have continued my education in natural history collections care and conservation through short courses and workshops, many of which were sponsored by the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC, pronounced “spinach”). I have been an active member of SPNHC for many years and have served as a Council Member-at-Large on its Board, and was secretary of the Society for many years.
After working for many years as Collection Manager for the Invertebrate Paleontology collection here at the Academy, I have been involved with projects including the Malacology Department’s Indo-Pacific molluscan database, Entomology’s type specimen database and their Titian Peale Butterfly and Moth Collection’s Save America’s Treasures grant involving databasing and imaging the Peale boxes as they were being conserved (see clade.ansp.org/entomology/collections/peale/index.html). I also worked on the Patrick Center’s orphan collections project, finding, cleaning, sorting, rehousing and databasing field collections involving aquatic organisms from algae to fish (with a variety of invertebrate phyla in between). I am currently working on the Botany Department’s LAPI (Latin American Plant Initiative) project databasing and scanning images of the type specimens in the Academy’s Herbarium.
Ms. Amanda Labadie
I have a great interest in drawing biological specimens, and during the summer of 2005, I was given the opportunity to intern at the Academy as an REU. During that experience, I worked closely with scientists and made illustrations for their research publications. In May 2006, I graduated from Arcadia University with a B. A. in Scientific Illustration and am currently working as a curatorial assistant in the botany department. Right now I am involved in a project that involves taking digital pictures and databasing type specimens. In the future, I plan to continue my education by either pursuing a master's degree in museum studies or completing a second degree that involves the health sciences (particularly dental hygiene).
Miguel Pérez, M.S.
Flora of Pennsylvania Intern