AURELIE JACQUET, Purdue University (IN). Neuroprotective effects of Nepalese traditional medicine on Parkinson’s disease models (Nepal). Parkinson’s Disease (PD) affects five million people worldwide. PD is an age-related disorder that involves the death of brain cells, and although current therapies treat symptoms, there is as of yet no cure. The people of Nepal have a long tradition of herbal medicine and take advantage of the remarkably diverse native flora and the exchange of Nepalese, Ayurvedic (Indian medicine), and Traditional Chinese Medicinal practices. The natural and social diversity of Nepal represents a great opportunity to research a wide range of traditional medical treatments. Our central hypothesis is that the plants used in Nepalese traditional medicine have a high potential to alleviate neuron death and changes in brain cells associated with PD. We will interview experts in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine. We know that the way PD affects people is similar to other diseases, so we expect that plant extracts which can be used to treat PD may also show therapeutic benefit in other neurodegenerative disorders. We will conduct controlled tests to determine safety and efficacy of samples we collect. Results of our research will be communicated back to the local organizations. This study is significant not only to the scientific community, but to the international community and communities throughout Nepal. It is the first ethnopharmacological study of PD in Nepal. Our study is designed to meet the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goal #1: “Eradicate poverty and hunger.” Our research contributes to this goal through generation of knowledge capable of initiating new discussions in the field of public health policy, and the preservation of traditional practices.
Research Advisor: Jean-Christophe Rochet, Associate Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Purdue University.
Learn more about Aurelie and her research here.
ANNA JOHNSON, University of Maryland Baltimore County (MD), Novel Urban Plant Communities: Causes and Consequences of Diversity (MD).The proportion of the world’s population that lives in cities has doubled in the last century. However, many cities experience shifts in human population growth patterns that lead to vacant stretches of land surrounded by developed neighborhoods. This is particularly true in formerly industrial cities of eastern North America. The “shrinking city” is certainly a socio-economic challenge, but can also be considered an opportunity to develop new ways to manage a network of urban greenspaces for increased ecosystem services and biodiversity.
Researchers are just beginning to explore processes that drive variation in biodiversity within cities, at the scale at which people actually manage their environment (the neighborhood or parcel-level scale). Urban plant communities may still provide valuable ecosystem services, such as improved soil quality, reduced stormwater runoff, support of pollinator communities and aesthetically-pleasing natural landscapes, but it remains unclear what factors are most important for driving variation in the provision of these services. The proposed research will manipulate plant community composition in the spring of 2013, in six city-owned vacant lots in Baltimore, MD, to explore how restoring the diversity of the regional pool of possible species interacts with variation in local environmental conditions caused by legacies of human land-use. Data will be collected on the resulting shifts in plant diversity and biomass. These experimental results will address whether the inability to disperse to patches, or local environmental stressors, are the primary limits on native plant community diversity in urban environments, and will inform future urban restoration efforts.
Research Advisor: Christopher M. Swan, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Department of Geography & Environmental Systems University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Learn more about Anna and her research here.
KELLY KSIAZEK, Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden (IL).
Conservation of forb species in urban environments: Can green roofs provide sustainable habitat for native prairie plants ? (IL) As cities and urban areas expand, the amount of land taken up by buildings, roads and farms increases, leaving less space for other organisms to live. Because every organism can play a different role in its community, greater biodiversity contributes to balanced processes in nature and helps keep the planet a healthier place to live for everyone. People in cities have started to share their space with other organisms by using green roofs, or rooftops specifically designed to include a special kind of soil and plants. Previously vacant space on top of buildings has the potential to be used by many living things, including birds, bees, butterflies and wide variety of plants whose traditional homes are becoming rare. However, when these organisms are in small populations, there is an increased possibility of inbreeding, or reproducing with relatives. In plants, inbreeding leads to the same problems that is does in humans; genetic defects in offspring. On the other hand, more genetic variety means a population has a higher chance of long-term survival. Kelly’s research will investigate the degree to which plants that grow on green roofs are inbreeding or reproducing with plants from other habitats such as those on the ground. If green roof plants are able to produce a wide genetic variety of offspring as they would in their natural habitat, then these unique green rooftops could be very helpful in providing places for plants and animals to live in the future.
Research Advisor: Jeremy Fant, PhD, Conservation Science and Molecular Ecology Lab Manager, Chicago Botanic Garden.
Learn more about Kelly and her research here.
GEORGE A MEINDL, University of Pittsburgh (PA).
Assessing the potential for cascading effects of heavy metal soil pollution: plants and pollinators (PA and CA). Heavy metals, such as zinc, copper, and nickel, occur naturally in small amounts in most soil environments. However, human land use, including agriculture, mineral mining, and industry, has resulted in toxic levels of heavy metal contamination in many areas. This issue is particularly relevant in Pennsylvania, which has a long-standing history of mineral mining and soil contamination. Due to toxic effects, soil metal contamination can harm both plants and animals. As a result, cleaning up metal contaminated soils is becoming increasingly important, but most methods are expensive and labor intensive. Phytoremediation has emerged as a low cost means to clean up metal contaminated soils, and involves the use of certain plant species that absorb soil metals and store them in above ground tissues, such as stems and leaves. These plants are grown on metal contaminated soil, and then removed at the end of their life cycle, taking the soil metals with them. However, because many insects feed on plant tissue, local insect populations may be harmed if they feed on metal-rich stems and leaves of introduced hyperaccumulators. In addition, it is unknown if metals are also stored in flowers that pollinators use as resources (e.g., pollen and nectar). If plants do concentrate metals into flowers, and pollinators collect metal tainted pollen and nectar, then local pollinator populations may be harmed through the introduction of metal accumulating plants. This project seeks to determine the potential risks phytoremediation poses to local insect populations, particularly pollinators.
Research Advisor: Tia-Lynn Ashman, PhD, Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh.
Learn more about George and his research here.
JESSICA B. TURNER, West Virginia University (WV), The Root of Sustainability: Understanding and implementing medicinal plant conservation strategies in the face of land-use change in Appalachia (WV). Medicinal plants are economically and socially important plants throughout Appalachia.
Due to unethical harvesting and human-caused habitat loss, medicinal plants are becoming increasingly rare. This research has two components: 1) Using surveys distributed by students in the Health, Science, and Technology Academy clubs across the state of West Virginia, we will be able to investigate the extent of conservation knowledge of community members, and what the individuals in the community know about the relationship between plants and surface mining. Additionally, understanding what drives harvester decision-making in the field is key to devising regulations that will be effective at sustaining the resource. 2) The quality of a forest, and types of plants that grow in the forest, can be influenced by the previous land-use history. Due to the high levels of medicinal plant harvest and the increasing loss of forest habitat, in order to ensure that medicinal plants do not become endangered, active reintroductions of medicinal plants are needed. Understanding whether or not reintroduced ginseng and goldenseal will survive and grow on mined lands, as compared to land that was previously used for agriculture and a mature forest, will demonstrate if the land is able to recover from this destructive process. The conservation of medicinal plants must be studied from both an ecological and social science perspective, because of the direct impact humans have on the environment.
Research Advisor: James B. McGraw, PhD, Eberly Professor of Biology, West Virginia University.
Learn more about Jessica and her research here.
ANITA VARGHESE, University of Hawaii (HI).
Community based ecological monitoring and its implications for conservation in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (India). Collection of medicinal plants and other wild plant products are an important livelihood activity for communities in the tropics. Today in India, opportunities for livelihoods are diversifying and moving away from nature resource based ones. I am interested in knowing what it is that motivates people to remain harvesters of medicinal plants and forest products. An approximate 100 million people are dependent on forest gathering alone. The rising demand for herbal products does put plants under pressure and often this pressure is not assessed. Traditional knowledge of the harvesters can be complementary to scientific knowledge; together they can improve the conservation status of these rare plants. One such species is Canarium strictum, an evergreen forest species, the resin of which is harvested for trade by the medicinal plan industry. These trees are becoming rare in the forests as per many of my previous assessments. I propose a study using participatory and interview based methods to assess the perspectives of the harvesters on the status of the forests and harvested species; in the process, design a community-based ecological monitoring protocol in India’s Whestern Ghats, a bio-cultural hotspot. I will also assess the status of C. strictum populations in the wild using ecological field methods. Observations of flowering and fruiting will be undertaken; seed germination trials will be conducted to further understand the ecology of the study species. The results will provide direct insight for better conserving ecologically and culturally important medicinal plants and their habitats.
Research Advisor: Tamara Ticktin, PhD, Associate Professor of Botany, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Learn more about Anita and her research here.