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GCA Scholarships Recipients


2021 Laymon Ball

The Garden Club of America Fellowship in Tropical Botany
School: PhD candidate in Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University

Mutualisms, Mountains, and Machine Learning: Disentangling Drivers of Evolution in a Florally Diverse Neotropical Plant Clade, Hillieae (Rubiaceae)

Ball will use a combination of fieldwork, machine learning, and phylogenetic comparative methods to disentangle abiotic and biotic drivers of evolution in an understudied group of Neotropical flowering epiphytes, Hillieae (Rubiaceae). While it is a relatively small group of only 29 species, Hillieae displays incredible floral diversity. Species fall into three pollination syndromes: bat, hawk moth, and hummingbird. As part of her research, Laymon will travel to Monteverde, Costa Rica, the region with the greatest Hillieae species richness, to confirm pollinators, study plant-pollinator interactions, collect floral trait data, and collect herbarium specimens.


2021 Nora Gavin-Smyth

The Garden Club of America Fellowship in Tropical Botany
School: Phd candidate in Plant Biology & Conservation, Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden

The Diversity and Evolution of Impatiens in the Eastern Arc Mountains

Gavin-Smyth uses field botany, herbarium research, and genomics to explore the phylogeography of Impatiens in Tanzania's Eastern Arc Mountains. Her research investigates the processes underlying the current diversity and distribution of the 40+ Impatiens species found only in the Eastern Arc to understand their evolution and conservation outlook. Using phylogenetics and population genetics together, she traces the origins of Eastern Arc Impatiens, adding one of the only studies of plants to the discussion on evolution of the Eastern Arc's biodiversity.


2021 Anna E. Nordseth Elizabeth Nordseth

The Garden Club of America Fellowship in Tropical Botany
School: PhD candidate in Ecology, Duke University

Regrowing an Endangered Forest: Dispersal and Recruitment Success of Four Primate-Dispersed Trees in a Fragmented Landscape

Nordseth’s research investigates the plant-animal interactions needed to maintain tree diversity and ecosystem function in tropical forests. She is examining primate seed dispersal in the fragmented forests of Panama's Azuero Peninsula, and will evaluate primate foraging and feeding behavior to understand how primate-dispersed seeds move across the landscape. This research will help inform ongoing forest restoration efforts in the region by finding ways to facilitate primate seed dispersal. Nordseth also aims to take a holistic approach to conservation by involving local communities in research, engaging in outreach, and writing about science for lay audiences.


2021 Peter Quakenbush

The Garden Club of America Fellowship in Tropical Botany
School: PhD candidate in Biological Sciences, Western Michigan University

New Field Collections of Medinilla (Melastomataceae) to Better Understand its Exceptional Diversity

Quakenbush is pursuing a phylogenetic study of Medinilla, the second largest genus in Melastomataceae and one of the most taxonomically complex. He received his master's degree in botany from the University of the Philippines, where he got his start with this paleotropical plant group. Collecting additional samples from key regions such as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and New Guinea will help to create a robust phylogenetic framework to better understand the systematics, biogeography, and character evolution of Medinilla.


2020 Betsabé Castro-Escobar

The Garden Club of America Fellowship in Tropical Botany

On the Trail of the Calabash Trees: Ethnobotany, Domestication, Evolution, and Geography of Crescentia

Betsabé D. Castro Escobar, a second- year Tropical Botany Scholar, is a
 PhD candidate in the integrative biology program at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research lies at the intersection of ethnobotany, ecology, and evolution. She is passionate about preserving traditional plant knowledge and is fascinated
by the interactions of people and plants in the tropical Americas. She is working with the Crescentieae “tribe” in the botanical family Bignoniaceae and is particularly interested in a group known as the calabash trees (genus Crescentia), which have been important plants for many cultural groups in the Americas—from Mexico to the Amazon to the Caribbean Basin. Tracing evolutionary responses that might be a result of these plant- human relationships could reveal insights about these plants’ evolution as well as their variation, along with furthering our understanding about their phytogeography, domestication, and versatile uses.

2020 Christina Joelle Pardo

The Garden Club of America Fellowship in Tropical Botany

Invasion of Ginger, Zingiber spectabile, in Tropical Forest Near the Wilson Botanical Garden in Southern Costa Rica

Christine Joelle Pardo is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami. Her project is an interdisciplinary case-study on the species Zingiber spectabile, an ornamental herb from Malaysia that has spread into the understory of tropical rainforests 
in southern Costa Rica. For her dissertation, she is investigating what characteristics make a species invasive and how invasive plants can change the rainforest understory. She also will explore how local stakeholders value exotic plants and perceive the phenomenon of plant invasions. Her goal is to provide a more holistic understanding of plant invasions in tropical rainforests.

2019 Betsabé Castro Escobar

The Garden Club of America Fellowship in Tropical Botany

Betsabé Castro Escobar is a 4th year PhD candidate in the Integrative Biology Program at the University of California, Berkeley. She studies the interactions of humans with culturally signi cant plants in the Caribbean, working currently with a group of plants called the calabash trees in the Tropical Americas. Escobar researches through the lens of ethnobotany, ecology, and evolution, tracing responses of plant- human interface including dispersal, domestication, and documenting the versatility of uses. She is passionate about preserving traditional plant knowledge and is fascinated with how humans have stimulated evolutionary responses in plants. She is an NSF Graduate Fellow, a UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Diversity Fellow, and Botany in Action Fellow.

2019 Carly Anderson Stewart

The Garden Club of America Fellowship in Tropical Botany

Carly Anderson Stewart is a PhD candidate studying fungal evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is currently studying the biodiversity and biogeography of lichens, speci cally the large, cosmopolitan lichen genus Cladonia (Cladoniaceae, lichenized Ascomycota). Her work explores triggers of diversi cation in the Cladonia tree of life asking which characteristics are associated with increases or decreases in diversi cation. Better understanding shifts in diversi cation rates would constitute an important step forward in fungal evolutionary biology. Stewart is also interested in large-scale lichen biogeography. Currently, she is working on using phylogenetic trees in combination with geographical data (spatial phylogenetics) to and areas of high diversity or high endemism. Pinpointing areas of high fungal diversity is important to precise protection of species and better informing conservation authorities.

2019 Carrie Tribble

The Garden Club of America Fellowship in Tropical Botany

Carrie Tribble is a PhD candidate in the Integrative Biology Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on the evolution of underground parts of plants and on the systematics and diversi cation of tropical plants, such as the charismatic members of the genus Bomarea. She is particularly interested in B. edulis, a pre-Columbian plant known for its edible and medicinal root tubers. Tribble hopes to integrate statistical phylogenetic models and ethnobotanical knowledge to better understand the drivers of evolution in this unique plant.

2019 Megan Sullivan

The Garden Club of America Fellowship in Tropical Botany

Megan Sullivan is a PhD candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her research uses ecological theory to understand why tropical forests have such high tree species biodiversity. She aims to apply these theories in disturbed ecosystems, where they are understudied. Her project examines seedling regeneration patterns and species functional trait information to understand how selective logging—a low-level, wide-scale, human disturbance—changes which species regenerate and survive in logged forests compared to unlogged forests. Results of this study will contribute to understanding how logging changes the biodiversity and function (e.g. carbon stock potential or fruit- bearing potential to support wildlife communities) of Afrotropical forests.


Scholarship Opportunities Abound

The Garden Club of America offers 28 merit-based scholarships and fellowships in 12 areas related to conservation, ecology, horticulture, and pollinator research. In 2021, over $300,000 were awarded to 61 scholars. Follow GCA Scholarships on Twitter for the latest news about pollinators, coastal wetlands, native bird habitats, and much more. Connect to a larger world of horticulture and conservation through the Garden Club of America scholars. Learn more about the GCA Scholarships. Browse the scholarship offerings.