The plant family Ericaceae (4000 species) has a global distribution and includes economically important members, such as blueberries, cranberries, and rhododendrons. The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) received an award to update species identifications, curate, refurbish with archival storage materials, image, and database Ericaceae research specimens at both NYBG and Rutgers University. The unique assemblage, which supports biodiversity research, includes herbarium specimens, liquid preserved tissue, anatomical microscope slides, wood, DNA samples, and images of living plants. Computerization upgraded to a web framework will enable the integration and simultaneous searching of all these collections.
Education is a primary intellectual merit of this project. A doctoral student will receive two years of support while being trained in the stewardship of an array of natural history collections. NYBG also develops under-represented groups by training students, interns and international collaborators. Upgrading collections infrastructure and electronic data dissemination will facilitate collections use in educational endeavors beyond NYBG. Using these research materials, an online atlas of Ericaceae anatomy and a K-12 teachers workshop will be developed. A symposium will educate Rutgers University biology under- and graduate-students about NYBG’s collections as a global tool for research, education, and ex situ conservation.