January 25, 2020
Predicting the future of plant diversity: New applications for digitized herbarium data
Presented by Pamela S. Soltis
Distinguished Professor and Curator, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida
Botanists have been collecting and depositing plant specimens in herbaria for centuries, with approximately 350 million specimens currently housed in the world’s herbaria. Until recently, these records of plant life on Earth were only available to those with the resources to visit herbaria in person. Recent efforts to digitize natural history collections have produced digital data and images for millions of specimens—available on the internet and in computable form for addressing today’s many societal challenges related to biodiversity. Application of modeling software to herbarium specimen information and environmental data enables characterization of the ecological niche of a species and the geographic distribution of this niche. Using projected changes in environmental variables, we can predict where the niche of a species will be under alternative future climate scenarios. Soltis’s talk will present a summary of how herbarium data are used to characterize the ecological niches of the flora of Florida and predict changes in Florida’s plant diversity during the coming century. The use of predictive modeling is an important new component of species conservation.
Pamela Soltis is a Distinguished Professor and Curator in the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida and serves as Director of the University of Florida Biodiversity Institute. Her main research interests are angiosperm phylogeny, polyploidy, and the use of digitized natural history collections in biodiversity research. Working with Douglas Soltis and others, she has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of angiosperm phylogeny and plant diversity. They have used this phylogenetic underpinning to address patterns of genome evolution and ancient polyploidy, including ancient whole-genome duplications that mark key clades of angiosperms. Her recent work on digitized natural history collections has addressed novel uses of herbarium specimens in studies of plant diversity. Working with a team of colleagues, she has helped develop outreach products that combine science and art, focusing on understanding, interpreting, and using the Tree of Life. Soltis served as President of the Botanical Society of America in 2007-08 and of the Society of Systematic Biologists in 2005-06; she is currently President of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.