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GCA Scholarships Recipients: The Garden Club of America Awards in Tropical Botany


2017 Alexander Linan

Alexander Linan is a PhD candidate at St. Louis University in affiliation with the Missouri Botanical Garden. His research combines population genomics, phylogenomics, and taxonomy in order to describe species, their evolutionary relationships, and species boundaries in members of the ebony and persimmon tree genus, Diospyros. He will focus on currently undescribed species of Diospyros endemic to Madagascar, and his research will provide insight into their extraordinary diversity in Madagascar. By naming and describing species, strategies can be developed to protect against, and properly control, illegal logging in this group of trees that are sought after for heartwood.
Funded by the Arundel Scholarship

2017 Benton Taylor

Benton Taylor is a PhD candidate in Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology at Columbia University. His project is titled “Understanding the Ecological Drivers of Nitrogen Fixation in Regenerating Tropical Forests.” He will focus on the ecology of nitrogenfixing trees in regenerating rainforests in Costa Rica. Regenerating tropical forests is critical to global conservation and climate change mitigation efforts; the nitrogen-fixing trees studied naturally fertilize the regrowth of these tropical forests following disturbance. His research investigates how changes in light and soil-nutrient availability during forest regeneration influences the success and the nitrogen inputs of nitrogen-fixing trees.
Funded by the GCA Visiting Gardens Committee

2017 Meredith Martin

Meredith Martin is a PhD candidate in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, and holds a Cullman Fellowship with the New York Botanical Garden. Her project is titled “Stand Dynamics of Subtropical Pine-Oak Forests in Sierra Norte, Oaxaca, Mexico, and Implications for Firewood Management.” Her research focuses on the ecology of montane pine-oak forests in Oaxaca, Mexico, and specifically on the growth and regeneration dynamics of oaks (Quercus) harvested for firewood and charcoal. While Mexico is a center of diversity for oaks, little is known about the majority of these species or forest types. Her research collaborates with a union of three Zapotec communities, and her results will be used to inform others about sustainable management techniques for firewood. 
Funded by the GCA Visiting Gardens Committee

2017 Natalie Christian

Natalie Christian is a PhD candidate in the Evolution, Ecology and Behavior Graduate Program at Indiana University Bloomington. Her project is titled “Understanding How Plant-endophyte Symbiotic Communities Assemble in Tropical Forests and Identifying the Genetic Mechanisms by which Endophytes Affect Host Well-being.” Her dissertation research takes place in  Panama, where she will study the fungal microbiome of plant leaves. She will combine field collections with manipulative studies and total RNA (ribonucleic acid) sequencing to study how fungal communities are transmitted and assembled in nature to interact within their host and affect plant health. 
Funded by the GCA Visiting Gardens Committee

2016 Meghna Krishnadas

Meghna Krishnadas is a PhD candidate studying Tropical Ecology in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. Her research will be conducted in the Western Ghats of India where she will study the ecology of rainforests and how tropical tree communities undergo drastic changes in disturbed and fragmented forests. In long-lived rainforest trees, many diversity-generating processes are strongest at the seed and seedling life-stages. Through field experiments she will test whether loss of top-down regulation of seeds and seedlings by fungal and insect pathogens drives the well-known phenomenon of edge-effects-shifts in species recruitment closer to forest edges. Results from this study will inform restoration and management practices of disturbed tropical rainforests.

Funded by the Visiting Gardens Scholarship

2016 Manuel Lujan

Manuel Lujan is a PhD candidate at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in affiliation with Claremont Graduate University. His research focuses on the systematics and taxonomy of the Neotropical genus (Clusia), which is a group of plants with remarkable diversity in terms of photosynthetic pathways (C3/CAM) and floral reward for pollinators (nectar/resin). He will focus on the evolution of photosynthetic plasticity as well as pollination reward variation in the group using molecular phylogenetic approaches. He will conduct fieldwork in a tropical montane forest in the Andes and the Guyana highlands, which are two major centers of species diversity for (Clusia).

Funded by the Arundel Scholarship

2016 Leland K. Werden

Leland K. Werden is a PhD candidate in Plant Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. His work examines how above and below ground plant traits influence the survival and growth of trees planted in large-scale restoration projects in tropical dry forests (TDFs). His work is conducted in direct collaboration with TDF restoration practitioners at Estación Experimental Forestal Horizontes in the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica, to ensure findings can be applied within the scope of ongoing restoration projects across the Neotropics. Results from his research have the potential to greatly advance ecological restoration theory and to create inexpensive and easily applied best practices for the restoration of TDFs.

Funded by the Visiting Gardens Scholarship

2016 Laura Frost

Laura Frost is a PhD candidate in the Biology Department at the University of Washington. Her research will study the fiddlewood genus (Citharexylum) for evolutionary relationships and biogeographic patterns. (Citharexylum) has a history of migration and adaptation to new biomes throughout the Neotropics. Extensive sampling from Ecuador will improve understanding of how biogeographic events, such as the uplift of the Andes, are associated with patterns of diversification.

Funded by the Arundel Scholarship

2015 Juan Ernesto Guevara

Juan Ernesto Guevara is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Integrative Biology at University of California, Berkeley. He is broadly interested in the ecological and evolutionary processes underlying the current patterns of Amazonian tree species turnover and endemism.  He is particularly interested in investigating the role of climate and heterogeneity, influenced by diversity, in the species turnover along a longitudinal gradient in Amazon terra firma forests. His intensive fieldwork will take him to places in Western and Central Amazonia where others have not collected before.

2015 Timothy L Treuer

Timothy L Treuer is a Ph.D. candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. His goal is to better understand drivers (such as soil quality and landscape composition) of community structure and composition in regenerating the tropical dry forest in Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG), Costa Rica, one of the world's largest tropical forest restoration projects. This research has the potential to lead to a more nuanced understanding of recovering forests and the role they can play in preserving endangered tropical dry forest species.



Scholarship Opportunities Abound

The GCA offers 28 merit-based scholarships and fellowships, awarding more than $330,000 to 86 scholars in 2017.

For example, the GCA Fellowship in Ecological Restoration offers an $8,000 annual grant for graduate study and research at a leading accredited university in the United States. Fields of study of past recipients have ranged from forestry to applied plant sciences to ecology and evolutionary biology.

Read more about the four 2017 recipients.