Remote Research: From Field to Quarantine


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.”

Christy Edwards got her field work done just in the nick of time. She returned from a collecting trip the day the “stay at home” order went into effect. Edwards had visited South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama to collect Phlox nivalis, a flowering plant native to the southeastern United States with showy purple blooms. Specifically, she was collecting Phlox nivalis subsp. Texensis, a federally endangered subspecies, with the goal of seeing how it is distinct from other subspecies of Phlox.

Phlox nivalis

“It was somewhat weird to be driving through a pandemic, as whenever we would stop to get groceries, everyone was out panic buying,” Edwards says.

The team took many precautions, including using hand sanitizer each time they stopped and wiping down all door knobs with Lysol wipes. When she got home, Edwards went into quarantine as she followed the stay at home order. 

Since then, she’s been making the shift from the real world to the virtual world. As a conservation geneticist, Edwards work is largely done in the lab. Under the stay at home order, her team, which includes many interns, are analyzing data and writing papers at home. 

She’s already conducted a thesis proposal defense for a PhD student at Washington University via Zoom. “I’ve never done it that way before, but it was surprisingly successful,” she says.

She’s using Zoom to schedule meetings for her lab team and journal club. 

“I’m just trying to give everyone as much support as I can remotely.”

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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