Sunday, February 12, 2012

Darwin Day

Today my family and I attended a celebration of Darwin's 203rd birthday hosted by the Metropolitan Society of Natural Historians! As part of the birthday party, there was a cake contest.

My wife's entry (which won first place!) was a series of cupcakes illustrating the evolution of mankind, beginning with an ancestral primate akin to a shy, nocturnal aye-aye, moving through our common ancestors with the monkeys and great apes, and culminating in Darwin himself:

The Descent of Man

My entry was a bit more cryptic, but got to the heart of one of the most important aspects of evolution: the fact that individuals within a species vary. Without this, evolution would not be possible. I think that many of the misunderstandings about what evolution is, and how it works, among the general public seem to stem from the under-appreciation of this fact. So I created a group of cupcakes that showed the variation within one species:

Variation Within Species

Happy Darwin Day!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lepidostroma vilgalysii

I recently had a paper published in Mycological Progress with Jessie Uehling and Matt Smith in which we described a new species of lichen.  This is a special lichen because it is one of the few species in the Basidiomycetes that forms an intimate association with an alga (note that >98% of lichen-forming fungi belong to the Ascomycetes).  The species was first collected by Rytas Vilgalys of Duke University, so naturally we named it Lepidostroma vilgalysii.  There is a "DukeTODAY" post about the species, which was followed up by a podcast.  There was even a Q&A with Dr. Rytas Vilgalys, and an announcement was posted in The Herald-Sun.

Here's a shot of the species in the field:

Notice the yellow clubs (these are the fungal reproductive structures) and the tiny light-green white-rimmed squamules on the soil (these are the lichenized part with the sterile fungus and the algae).

- Brendan



Hodkinson, B. P., J. K. Uehling, and M. E. Smith. 2012. Lepidostroma vilgalysii, a new basidiolichen from the New World. Mycological Progress doi:10.1007/s11557-011-0800-z.
View publication (website)

Hodkinson, B. P., J. K. Uehling, and M. E. Smith. 2012. Data from: Lepidostroma vilgalysii, a new basidiolichen from the New World. Dryad Digital Repository doi:10.5061/dryad.j1g5dh23.
View data and analysis file webportal (website)


P.S. I found this interesting blog post that gives the Lepidostroma vilgalysii article as an example for citation of data packages associated with articles. The public archiving of all data and analysis files associated with published results is extremely important (but often neglected), and is analogous to the archiving of physical resources such as specimens and cultures.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

NYBG Lichenology - Year in Review

Recently, Bill Buck of the New York Botanical Garden wrote up a summary of the past year in cryptogamic botany at NYBG.  A portion of this was specifically on lichenology, which I have reproduced below:

"This was a monumental year at New York for lichenology. Several things all came together. First, our lichenologists, led by graduate student James Lendemer, have prepared a manuscript on the lichens of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, based on their own recent collections and increasing the lichens known from the park by over 60%! This will be published in the Garden’s Memoir series. Next, we received a National Science Foundation grant to digitize our North American bryophytes and lichens. As part of this project we brought to New York Dr. Brendan Hodkinson, who just finished his Ph.D. at Duke University looking at the role that bacteria play in the lichen symbiosis. He is organizing the project and coordinating with other centers of the project. Next, we heard from Dr. Jonathan Dey, at Illinois Wesleyan University, that he would donate his private lichen herbarium to NYBG. Since his thesis was on the lichens of the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains, this was a wonderful addition to our holdings of lichens from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Although we are still processing this amazing gift, it appears to be about 30,000 specimens! Next, Brendan Hodkinson and James Lendemer applied to the National Science Foundation to inventory the lichens of the mid-Atlantic coastal plain (southern New Jersey to southern Georgia), as postdoctoral students of our lichenologist, Dr. Richard Harris. Much to our delight, this project was fully funded and will begin later this month. In addition to funding the two postdocs, the grant will also cover the expenses of a new graduate student. So, we will continue to have lichenology here at New York for some time to come. Brendan will move off of his administrative role in the one grant and onto the other."

So within the coming weeks, I will officially become the PI on this new grant, entitled "Lichen biodiversity of the threatened North American Middle Atlantic Coastal Plain: Improving classification, conservation, and communication."  I can't wait to get started!

- Brendan