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.”
With shut downs and stay-at-home orders around the world, it’s no surprise the Garden’s ability to do global research has been impacted. But for Ehoarn Bidault, a Belgian citizen who works for the Garden and is based in France, the questions of when he might be able to resume fieldwork is a little more complicated.
This summer, Bidault planned to do fieldwork in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. To make that happen he is dependent on policies from the U.S., France, Belgium, and the sanitary situation in France, Belgium, Seychelles, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
“That’s a lot of factors to take into account, not even mentioning my collaborators in Guinea who might have problems we can’t even imagine in Europe,” Bidault says. “So for this activity, yes, the pandemic is a real challenge.”
For now, he’s still grounded as Europeans are still restricted from returning to the field. Botanists in Africa can now return to fieldwork, allowing his team to continue work there.
At home, Bidault has been able to work on reports and scientific articles, articles, cartography, data management, communication, and project management. These tend to be the most time consuming parts of his work, but are typically done remotely.
But not having access to his office or herbarium means that any work he does with plant specimens is on hold for now. That work typically includes identifying and observing specimens for Red List purposes or taxonomic studies and specimen management.
“Many specimens of the biggest institutions throughout the world are scanned, and images accessible online, but it is not the case of all specimens,” he explains. “Sometimes we just lack one or two, that prevent us from completing a task at 100%.” Slowly, Europeans are returning back to their offices, which means Bidault will be back in the herbarium soon.
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.
Public Information Officer