Remote Research: Losing a Whole Year of Conservation Work

Throughout the world, closures and lockdowns aimed to stop the spread of COVID-19 have disrupted many people’s lives and work. As a global institution, the Missouri Botanical Garden does research around the world, making travel restrictions a major hindrance. The “stay at home” order means staff has lost access to the Garden’s herbarium and labs, too.

But of course, they’ve adapted. Some are using the time to catch up on data analysis. Others are completing manuscripts, which communicate the findings of their work, and floras, a descriptive list of plants in a particular region. And in more remote locations, like protected sites in Madagascar, conservation efforts go on.

“None of us are running out of stuff we can do,” says Jim Miller , Senior Vice President of Science and Conservation.  “Everybody’s got a laptop, we’re all able to work.”

Matthew Albrecht is likely to see a year delay on his field work studying the endangered Pyne’s ground-plum, or Astragalus bibullatus, in limestone grasslands in Tennessee. A trip later in the spring would be the group’s 11th consecutive year monitoring wild and restored populations of the species, but travel restrictions mean the trip is unlikely to happen. This is especially unfortunate because research so far has found wet winters and early springs are correlated with population growth of this species.

“This will likely be a very good year for flowering and fruiting, which is rare,” Albrecht says. “Knowing that we might miss this important data point has us really bummed.”

Astragalus bibullatus seedlings

The group was also eager to collect data from three new reintroductions of the population in natural area they installed in the fall. The data would have helped determine where they place reintroductions in the coming fall and provided guidance on future management actions of natural populations.

“Missing one year of data collection with an endangered species can have important impacts to plant conservation.”

Mathew Albrecht

But all isn’t lost. Before closures, Albrecht’s team germinated about 600 seedlings for reintroductions this fall. Those seedlings are now being cared for by our expert horticulture staff at the Garden’s Oertli Family Hardy Plant Nursery, where one staff member is taking care of collections during the closure. Additionally, one staff member is able to access the lab once a week to continue maintaining a germination experiment of the federally endangered Physaria globosa, which is in the mustard family.

Also on the bright side, Albrecht has more time for data analysis and manuscript writing while he’s working at home.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every facet of our lives, the Garden’s critical work conserving plant life goes on. These efforts would not be possible without your support. Consider helping us continue our mission in these uncertain times by becoming a member or making a donation.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

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