From Plant Press Vol. 16 no. 3, July 2013
By Warren L. Wagner
In the October 2011 issue of The Plant Press I wrote in this column honoring 204 years of service by six staff who were retiring. Over the next several months the Department of Botany developed a staffing plan to fill the most critical positions in the department left by these retirements and other gaps resulting from earlier retirements or new approaches to our work. In the October 2012 issue we reported the staff changes and hires for the department’s information technology group (Sylvia Orli as head and Ingrid Pol-Yin Lin in a new multi-media position). In the January 2013 issue we reported on the new collections staff that had been hired (Melinda Peters and Meghann Toner). I am delighted to report here the recent recruitment of two research scientists and curators to the department.
Dr. Ashley N. Egan (Assistant Professor and Herbarium Curator; East Carolina University) will join the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Botany as Curator of Legumes in August 2013. Egan received her doctoral degree from Brigham Young University in 2006 under the direction of Keith Crandall, and had her postdoctoral training at Cornell University in Jeff Doyle’s lab. Egan is a systematic biologist with strong expertise in phylogenomics and bioinformatics. Her research integrates field work, phylogenetic theory, genomics and bioinformatics in tackling various complex systematic and polyploidy problems in legume plants, one of the largest plant families of flowering plants, and one in which the US National Herbarium has strong holdings. Her publication record is excellent with publications in a wide variety of journals including the high impact Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Systematic Biology, BMC Biology, and New Phytologist. She is a collection-based researcher who has described new species and a new genus, and contributed treatments for the Flora of North America project. She has already established herself as an expert of next-generation sequencing approaches in plant evolutionary biology.
Dr. Eric Schuettpelz (Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina Wilmington) will join the NMNH Department of Botany as Curator of Ferns in August 2013. Schuettpelz is an evolutionary biologist well-known for his work on fern systematics and diversifications. He received is doctoral degree at Duke University under the direction of Kathleen Pryer in 2007. He had his postdoctoral training at Duke University and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. The US National Herbarium has the best collection of fern specimens in the world, so Schuettpelz’s program will be a great fit to our collections’ strengths. His publication record is excellent with publications in a wide variety of high impact journals: Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Systematic Biology, and Evolution. His research has been collection-based and he has made valuable and important contributions to the field of systematics and evolutionary biology of ferns. Moreover he has contributed to the new family-level classification of ferns, and published new combinations and clarified species delimitations.
When the National Museum of Natural History opened its doors in 1910, the botany staff had four curators. With the forthcoming addition of two new research scientists, the number of curators in the Department of Botany will be at 13, a bit smaller than the peak of 20 curators in the early 1990s. The addition of Egan and Schuettpelz to the staff will allow the Botany Department to remain a strong a vibrant unit within NMNH, will add research programs for major taxonomic groups worldwide, and will provide expertise and curation for some of our strongest collections.