By botanizing, of course! I arrived into New Orleans yesterday after 18 hours of traveling. So today, together with my colleague Dr. Herve Sauquet from Paris-Sud University, we went two hours north of New Orleans to Lake Martin. There we marveled at the botanical wonders -- bald cypress trees growing out of the water, floating ferns, and an abundance of lotus. It was more than enough to keep us awake and enthralled. Click on the photos to bring up a slide show or hover over them to see the captions...
Cycads are very familiar plants, even though you may not realize it! They are commonly grown garden and landscaping plants. On the right are some cycads under a fig in a recently landscaped area in Woolloomooloo, close to the RBG Sydney.
Today there are 300 or so species of cycads, but they have the highest extinction risk of all plants according to the IUCN Red List. That is very alarming!
Here are a couple of news stories about the dwindling numbers of cycads :
Another reason cycads are so fascinating is that they existed alongside the dinosaurs, so they are called "living fossils". But, my research has revealed that almost all living species arose relatively recently, that is in the last 12 million years. That's 53 million years after the dinosaurs died out.
(It's worth noting though that there were cycads during dinosaur times, it’s just that they are the ancestors to today's species.)
The next question for me is "how do we protect cycads from extinction"? Well, a headline in The Australian newspaper described me as a "Myth-buster out to save ancient treasures"! In fact, the next step is to study cycad conservation genetics (more on that in a later post). While away on the Churchill Fellowship, I will be collecting cycad specimens for genetic analysis, and meeting with fellow scientists who are doing this type of work for Caribbean and central American cycads.
The Churchill Fellowship
The Churchill Trust was established in 1965 to honour the memory of Sir Winston Churchill by awarding overseas research Fellowships known as 'Churchill Fellowships'. Churchill Fellowships are awarded in a huge variety of fields, if you browse through the list of fellows you will get an idea of how diverse the topics are!
The Churchill Fellowships allow you to design your own research project, travel the world and further your knowledge in your chosen field, before returning to make a real contribution to Australian society.
The Churchill Fellowship that I was awarded is sponsored by the Australian Biological Resources Study with the goal of undertaking overseas taxonomic research on Australian flora or fauna. My fellowship focuses on cycads, and in particular I will be studying the Genomics and biodiversity of the endangered cycads of Australia and Asia.
In 2012, I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship sponsored by the Australian Biological Resources Study.