Outreach, Education and Training

RaMP: Post-Baccalaureate Training and Research Program in Rare Plant Science and Conservation

About the Program

The Rare Plant RaMP (Research & Mentoring for Post-Baccalaureates in Biological Sciences) program is a one-year research experience intended for individuals who were not able to participate extensively in research during their undergraduate degree program. This program is particularly intended for individuals from demographics historically excluded from STEM, first generation scholars, and those from under-resourced institutions. Those interested in gaining research and professional development experience in botany, plant science, or conservation are encouraged to apply.

This specific Rare Plant RaMP program will be dispersed across four botanic gardens. Mentees in this geographically distributed, research-focused program will have direct guidance from a mentor and co-mentors as they pursue their research in the area of rare plant science and conservation. This RaMP will empower mentees to perform both independent and collaborative research, and strengthen their ability to communicate science to other researchers, to policymakers, and to the general public.

Program Dates: August 2023 – July 2024

RaMP Offers:

  • Research Experience: Engage in a year long research program under the guidance of a mentor and co-mentors around the theme of rare plant research.
  • Program-wide meetings: Every other week, mentees and their peers will participate in discussion sessions focusing on reading primary literature, research skills and ethics, science communication, professional development, and career guidance.
  • Exchange visits and workshops: Mentees will have the opportunity to visit other academic, government, or industry labs to further their professional goals and attend relevant workshops.
  • Annual program symposium: Mentees will present their research at a yearly scientific conference-style symposium.
  • Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) conference: Mentees and their mentors will attend the annual CPC Conference. Mentees will present their research, while also networking with other experts in their fields of interest.
  • Science Communication: Mentees will lead a science communication project around a topic of their choice.
  • Yearly stipend: $41,000 with benefits, a research stipend, and funded travel expenses for conferences, symposia, workshops, and exchange visits. Specific benefits will vary at each botanic garden.

Eligibility:

  1. Individuals who are first-generation college students, students from low-income households, or those from groups historically excluded from STEM are encouraged to apply.
  2. Participants must have a baccalaureate college degree before participating in the program (applicants must apply to the program before or within four years of graduation, with extensions allowed for family, medical leave, or military service).
  3. Individuals cannot be currently enrolled or accepted into a graduate program.
  4. Applicants must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the United States.

Application Requirements:

Complete the online ETAP application, including a recent resume or CV and cover letter. In your resume or CV, be sure to highlight any previous research and work experience. The cover letter should describe your career goals and research interests in greater detail, how this program will influence your professional development in research, and indicate your preference regarding botanic garden, mentors, or specific projects. This is the best way to show us what you have accomplished that has been interesting to you, and how that may translate into this research experience.

ETAP Application

Application Deadline: Mar. 16, 2023
Program contact: Melissa Natividade, mnatividade@atlantabg.org

Example Mentee Projects:

Atlanta Botanical Garden: Atlanta, GA
Mentor: Dr. Lauren Eserman is a Research Scientist in the Conservation & Research Department at ABG. Her research focuses on phylogenetics and population genetics of rare plants of the Southeastern US and the crop wild relatives of sweetpotato.

Assessment of genetic diversity in persistent Trillium.
The endangered persistent Trillium (Trillium persistens Duncan) is restricted to only a small number of sites around Tallulah Gorge in Georgia and South Carolina. It is hypothesized that this species existed as a single contiguous population before the Tallulah River was dammed in the early 1900s. Species in the genus Trillium are also notable for their immense variation in genome size - species of Trillium and related genera have some of the largest eukaryotic genomes. The mentee will perform a population genetic study of Trillium persistens paired with a survey of genome size variation to understand whether gene flow occurs between sites and whether genetic structure is associated with variation in genome size.The mentee will have the opportunity to see the project through from DNA isolation to data analysis.

Mentor: Dr. Emily Coffey is the Vice President for Conservation and Research at the Atlanta Botanical Garden where she provides guiding strategies for ongoing conservation efforts, and is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Emory University & Georgia Institute of Technology.

Applied conservation of threatened species in the southeastern United States.
This project will have three foci including community ecology, seed banking dynamics, and conservation horticulture of several southeastern endangered species including Isotria medeoloides, Rhododendron chapmanii, Spiraea virginiana, Sarracenia alabamensis, Hudsonia montana, and Torreya taxifolia. Learning opportunities for the three foci will include understanding how to plan and conduct population and demographic surveys for rare plants, hand-on experience in mapping the distribution of rare plant populations using state-of-the-art global positioning tools, data management of rare plant collections, experimental horticultural trials, germination and propagation protocol development, seed processing, and experimental germination and desiccation tolerance trials. Mentees will be exposed to project planning, experimental design, field work, lab work processing samples collected while in the field, data analysis and reporting.


California Botanic Garden: Claremont, CA
Mentor: Dr. Naomi Fraga is the Director of Conservation Programs at California Botanic Garden (CalBG) and a Research Assistant Professor at Claremont Graduate University.

Taxonomic assessment and common garden study of northern and southern populations of Tecopa bird’s beak.
Tecopa bird’s beak (Chloropyron tecopense Orobanchaceae) is a globally imperiled annual, restricted to alkali wetlands in the Mojave and Great Basin deserts of California and Nevada. Historically, it was thought to be endemic to Amargosa basin in Inyo County, California and adjacent Nye County, Nevada, but almost 30 years after its initial description, an occurrence was discovered in Fish Lake Valley, Esmeralda County, Nevada. The Amargosa basin is 240km south of Fish Lake Valley, which raises questions about the relationship of these two populations and if they should be recognized as separate taxa. Preliminary data indicates that there are morphological and phenological differences between northern and southern populations, however these differences have not yet been assessed in a common garden setting. There are several threats that place C. tecopense at risk of extinction, however threats differ in each geographic region, creating a distinct conservation context under which each population should be managed. In this study, plants from northern and southern populations will be grown in a common garden at California Botanic Garden to record their morphological and phenological characteristics. These data will be integrated with genomic, and ecological data to clarify the taxonomic status of each population.

Mentor: Dr. Carrie Kiel is a Conservation Geneticist at CalBG and a Research Assistant Professor at Claremont Graduate University.

Systematics of the centauries (Zeltnera, Gentianaceae).
Zeltnera namophila (Gentianaceae), is listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act. It was recently evaluated by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and assigned a rank of 1B.1 or as a plant species that is rare throughout its range and has serious threats. During the CNPS evaluation process, taxonomic questions were identified including the proper identification of plants that occur in the Owens River basin, in Inyo County, California. This study will incorporate an integrative approach that includes phylogenetic methods, population genomics, and micromorphology to assess species of Zeltnera to improve identification of taxa within the Owens River basin. This project will inform management of sensitive habitats and species, because populations must first be properly identified for appropriate management to be implemented. This project will help clarify taxonomic issues in a genus that holds several rare plant species and thus has broad conservation application.


San Diego Botanic Garden: San Diego, CA
Mentor: Dr. Colin Khoury is the Senior Director of Science and Conservation at the San Diego Botanic Garden. Colin's core interest is studying and highlighting the importance of conservation and access to biodiversity for food and nutrition security.

Mentor: Dr. Ari Novy is President and CEO of San Diego Botanic Garden and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies working at the intersection between institutional leadership, public policy and on-the-ground plant conservation.

Mentor: Dr. Todd Michael is a Research Associate at the San Diego Botanic Garden and is a Research Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where his group focuses on the sequencing and analysis of plant genomes.

San Diego Botanic Garden seeks mentees who are interested in multidisciplinary and multifaceted project experiences across one or more special rare plant project areas. Mentees will have the opportunity to engage in field botany, ex situ conservation, conservation horticulture, lab-based genetic, genomic and chemical analysis, and design of rare plant monitoring and management with the overriding goal of developing skill-sets to move the needle on conservation efficacy. Mentees will integrate public education and communications in their projects through SDBG’s public outreach programs.

Conservation, genomic analysis, and propagation of rare California plants.
Conservation of rare plants requires detailed methods for seed processing, viability testing, cold storage, and propagation, which are generally species-specific and in many cases insufficiently developed, in addition to monitoring of the species’ status in the wild, including their genetic and evolutionary trajectories. Projects will be conducted to develop or improve methods for the conservation and propagation of rare endemic California plants. Mentees will learn and utilize a combination of horticultural, laboratory, bioinformatic, field botanical, and natural lands management skills to determine threats to rare plants and then design and test conservation interventions. Current projects in this area include: 1) Linking genomes to environmental traits and improving outplanting success for the federally threatened Encinitas baccharis (Baccharis vanessae); 2) Improving germination protocols for Federally Endangered Del Mar manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa); 3) Identification of true-type population of the often hybridized Cedros Island oak (Quercus cedrosensis); and 4) Propagation of the highly imperiled liveforevers (Dudleya; Crassulaceae) in part to combat widespread poaching via sustainable large-scale propagation.

Conservation of rare wild relatives of food crops.
The wild cousins of food crops are increasingly being used in plant breeding to improve the sustainability, climate resilience, and nutritional quality of the world’s food crops. But habitat destruction, invasive species, climate change and other threats are quickly leading to their disappearance from their natural habitats. Mentees will learn and use a combination of botany, ecology, biogeography, and genetics methods to help better understand the identity, distribution, and conservation status of these crop wild relatives. Current projects focus on wild beans (Phaseolus), walnuts (Juglans), plums (Prunus), and several other fruit and nut tree species native to California.

Conservation of rare medicinal plants.
San Diego Botanic Garden has recently received funding to create a living collection of medicinal plants that can simultaneously serve conservation and human therapeutic goals. This work involves deep collaboration across the knowledge holding and innovation pipeline from Indigenous ethnobotanists to drug commercialization entrepreneurs. This collection will include rare plants, primarily of the Southwestern US, that are used for or have potential for human therapeutics. Mentees will work with living collection experts to build and catalog this collection and learn the most up-to-date standards for ethical plant collecting and dissemination. Additionally, mentees may engage on projects to evaluate the genetics and metabolic production of plants under different growing conditions and geographies. Current projects include analysis of Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon spp.) for neurodegenerative diseases and California sagebrush (Artemisia californica) for antimalarial compounds.


The Morton Arboretum: Lisle, IL
Mentor: Dr. Sean Hoban is a Tree Conservation Biologist at The Morton Arboretum

Botanic gardens maintaining genetic diversity and helping species adaptation.
Botanic gardens seek to conserve rare and threatened plants via living collections, similar to zoos, and we compile information to help manage species in the wild. Our team develops knowledge using the fields of genetics, biogeography, population biology and computational biology. Mentee projects could include (A) use simulations and/or genomic data to determine how to allocate seed sampling effort for species in different categories of rarity and for species with different pollination traits, (B) use genomics to document hybridization among species in botanic gardens, especially for long-lived trees, to understand and to provide guidance on use of such seed for restoration, (C) assess effective population sizes over time of common and rare species which will provide knowledge on how species have changed in commonness and how species respond to climate change. Examples of our work include Hoban and Strand 2015, Hoban et al 2012, Rosenberger et al 2021, and Schumacher et al 2022.

Mentor: Dr. Silvia Alvarez-Clare is the Director of Global Tree Conservation at The Morton Arboretum.

The Global Tree Conservation team at the Morton Arboretum focuses on preventing extinction of threatened tree species with particular focus on oak ecosystems (genus Quercus). We work with local partners to conduct demographic studies, population surveys, ecological field experiments, seedling propagation trials, and spatial distribution models that inform needed conservation actions (e.g., ecological niche models, potential distribution models). Participants will collaborate with the GTCP team by developing their research project within the context of one of our existing projects:(1) Incorporating threatened and rare oaks in restoration plantings in California, (2) Creating conservation groves for threatened oaks in Southeastern US, (3) Safeguarding threatened oak ecosystems in Mesoamerican cloud forests. Although the participant should be based at Morton, he/she will travel to field locations to gather data and work with in situ partners. In addition to research, the student will learn about how to prioritize species for conservation action, conservation action planning, and communicating science to a broad audience.