Remote Research: Missed Connections


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.”

Pete Lowry was supposed to be in Zambia right now.

Lowry, Senior Curator and Director of the Garden’s Africa & Madagascar Program, was set to attend a meeting there for the Association for the Taxonomic Study of the Flora of Tropical Africa. The meeting only happens every three years, and is a prime opportunity for botanists to gather and interact with colleagues from all around the world who study plants of tropical Africa. But, like so much else, it got postponed. A virtual meeting wasn’t possible, Lowry says, because between 400 and 500 people were set to attend. Plus, the main perk of the triennial meetings is the rare opportunity to network with global colleagues who study African and Malagasy flora.

“That is irreplaceable,” Lowry says.

He has a few other trips on hold, too. Lowry, who resides in Paris, was set to visit St. Louis for three weeks starting April 1. That trip will wait until at least July. This month, he planned to visit Kew Gardens to work in their herbarium. That will have to wait, too.

At home in Paris, where he is under a strict lockdown, trips to the herbarium are impossible, as are in-person meetings. Meetings can be done over phone or video calls. He’s spending much of his time working on multiple manuscripts. He does have access to Paris’ herbarium, which is all online, allowing him to go through specimens and enter them into the Tropicos database maintained by the Garden.

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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