Category: Blog


Published: September 4, 2012

Connecting Biodiversity Research & Collections with Curriculum

Matthew Von Konrat, Head, Collections, Gantz Family Collections Center

The first of two synergistic Biosynthesis meetings relating to the central theme of an integrative systematic study of the liverwort genus Frullania was held over two days on Sept. 29 and 30. The project includes novel elements to help accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and reduce the taxonomic impediment.

The first of two synergistic Biosynthesis meetings relating to the central theme of an integrative systematic study of the liverwort genus Frullania was held over two days on Sept. 29 and 30. The project includes novel elements to help accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and reduce the taxonomic impediment.

The first meeting, with the majority of participants from universities and colleges from the Chicagoland area, focused on education and outreach; the second meeting, to be held in late November, will include national and international collaborators focusing on research-driven goals and deliverables.

Significantly, the first meeting worked towards the goal of engaging students of partnering institutions to aid in capturing data; thus relieving some of the taxonomic impediment. A major obstacle to documenting, describing and discovering the Earth's biodiversity is the fact there is a worldwide shortage of taxonomists. Taxonomists are charged with identifying species, describing species that are new to science, determining their taxonomic relationships, and make predictions about their classification.

Bridging the taxonomic endeavor, education, training, and broader impact activities. To help overcome this impediment, The Field Museum and the Biosynthesis center hosted a two day meeting, bringing together a novel network of students, scientists, educators, and administrators to lay out a framework to increase student participation in the scientific process using Frullania as a case study. The meeting centered around discussion of pilot studies that had been conducted at Wilbur Wright College, Northeastern Illinois University and The Field Museum. Students conducted measurements and observations of morphological characters from digitally rendered images from scientific collections housed at The Field Museum. Two students from Northeastern Illinois University, Oana Vadineanu and Lisa Murata provided an excellent presentation outlining the pilot studies and provided important recommendations to be implemented in further studies. Data obtained by students will be directly used for biodiversity research. 

There were many exciting outcomes from the meeting. Dr. Thomas Campbell announced that the project will be implemented in an introductory biology course including six classes and 144 students. Dr. Campbell was one of the convenors and early adopters of the project in its pilot phase. Associate Professor Michael Bryson (Roosevelt University) and his student Kristina Lugo, together with Beth Crownover (Director of the Education Department, Field Museum) are spearheading a K-12 component. Dr. Matt Greif (Wilbur Wright College) will continue a service learning component in one of his courses. Dr. Greif is co-principal investigator on the National Science Foundation funded project and was also a convenor of the meeting. Dr. Arfon Smith (Director of Citizen Science) and his team at Adlar Planetarium are producing a prototype for an online version of the pilot - is a particularly exciting phase of the project. Dr. von Konrat and participants plan on publishing detailed information about their novel network and findings in a White Paper later this year. 

What are liverworts? Liverworts, together with mosses and hornworts, are a group of land plants commonly called bryophytes. Bryophytes play a major ecological role and are considered evolutionary significant. The small size of these organisms enables them to respond rapidly to environmental and ecological change offering them great utility in conservation science. They have great potential as indicators of past climate change and as indicators of global warming. A growing body of evidence also identifies liverworts as the earliest diverging lineage of land plants, so they are considered evolutionary very significant. Chemical compounds extracted from liverworts also exhibit important biological activity. For example, chemical extracts derived from Frullania species have been found to have cytotoxicity against certain cancer cell lines, and significant antimicrobial and antifungal activity. Please read a series of papers dedicated to bryophytes celebrating The Year of Biodiversity (2012). Earlier this year, under the banner of 'Early Land Plants, Early Adoptors' theme, von Konrat and his colleagues described the first new liverwort species under the revolutionary new rules that allow electronic publication.

The meeting outlined here continues this theme to create novel networks, maximize next generation publishing tools, and multiple data sets to aid in providing a model systematic treatment of the liverwort genus Frullania with over 1200 published names.

A special thank you to the Encyclopedia of Life Biosynthesis Centre who funded and hosted the meeting. A very special thank you to Audrey Aronowsky, Beth Sanzenbacher and Sarah Kim.

Matthew Von Konrat

Kia ora! Greetings! I am originally from Aotearoa-New Zealand and relocated to Chicago in 2001. My field of interest has focused on the systematics of pteridophytes and bryophytes, particularly liverworts. I am stimulated by the variety of disciplines that plant systematics has to offer including aspects of plant ecology & biogeography, conservation, reproductive biology, morphology, ultrastructure, and the use of chemical markers. I am also particularly interested in theoretical aspects relating to species concepts and biogeography and how our understanding of these relate to conservation biology and conservation management decisions. I have deep interests in collection management and digitization (databasing and digital imaging). I also have strong interests in citizen science, education outreach and the dissemination of knowledge using various forms of multimedia.