Remote Research: No Hands on Deck


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.”

Monica Carlsen saw the impact of the restrictions early on. In early March, all 10 of her interns went on spring break, not knowing what would happen afterward. Since they had travelled, Carlsen decided it was best they didn’t return to the Garden and instead gave them an online literature review assignment. It was the only project that could be completed remotely. 

The precaution was prudent, but left Carlsen with no hands to help on any projects. It wasn’t long until many of her projects had to be put on hold anyway, as she delayed anything that could be done later. Plants in Garden greenhouses will flower again, so she stopped collecting scent samples. Herbarium specimens can be digitized later. Lab specimens, including plant tissue, can be frozen for at least 6 months, so she’ll pick up her studies when she can return.

Still, she has plenty left to do with databases and articles. Carlsen’s using her time at home to finish writing articles about data she’d already analyzed. She’s updating and curating other databases, a time-consuming project she often puts off for more pressing projects. Free online databases, like the Garden’s Tropicos, are a big help since it can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, to keep research going.

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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