Using flowering plants to address questions about plant biodiversity, biogeography, and evolution, I am interested in why some families of flowering plants are so species-rich and the factors that have promoted this diversification. Can certain families of plants be used as indicators of biodiversity hotspots and can this information be useful in conservation decisions? I am also studying species in a megadiverse family of plants like Princess Flowers (Melastomataceae) to determine how they are related to one another and where they fit into the tree of life for flowering plants.
My work in the Botany Department is centered mostly on the vascular plants of China. During the past forty years I have endeavored to build up the collection of Chinese specimens at the CAS herbarium both through collecting expeditions to China as well as through exchange with other institutions. I have been one of the plant family editors as well as an author for some treatments of the Flora of China, an international project that produced an English language flora of all the vascular plants of China.
For the past 30 years the major emphasis of my research has been the study of New World Acanthaceae (shrimp plants and their relatives). Although known in temperate regions primarily for showy ornamentals, the Acanthaceae are the 11th largest family of flowering plants (with more than 4,000 species) and a prominent element of many tropical regions. Mexico and Central America comprise a major center of diversity for this family.
I came to the Academy as a volunteer in 2016 in the Geology Department. Now, I split my time working as a Research Assistant for Geology and a Curatorial Assistant in Botany. Some of my duties include collections care, data cleaning, digitization, loan processing, volunteer management, and assisting visiting researchers. I have a B.S. from UC Davis in Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology with a minor in Environmental Toxicology. Recently, I graduated from San Jose State University's Master of Library and Information Science program.
As a curator in the Botany Department at the California Academy of Sciences, Dr. Sarah Jacobs is part of a core team of scientists that collectively curates the Academy’s collection of over 2.3 million herbarium specimens. As the Howell Chair of Western North American Botany, she is particularly focused on guiding and shaping the collection of Western North American plants, ensuring their preservation, growth, and relevance into the future.
I am a research assistant in the Nagalingum lab in the Botany department. My current research project is on cycads from South Africa in the genus Encephalartos (Zamiaceae). Many of the species from this region are functionally extinct in the wild or critically endangered, so we are using genomic data to assess the genetic diversity of these species in order to inform ex situ conservation efforts. My previous research projects with Dr. Nagalingum focused on Malaysian fern phylogenetics, and population genetics of an Australian cycad, Cycas candida (Cycadaceae).
Documenting the world's vast plant diversity has been one of the most challenging endeavors in the natural sciences. Inspired by the exuberant tropical plant diversity, my research interests started with floristic projects on cloud forests and tropical wet forest relicts in Venezuela. I have studied species diversity and taxonomy of the giant genus Croton (Euphorbiaceae) and participated in collaborative projects on the systematics of the diverse genus Ruellia (Acanthaceae).
My time in the Botany department at the Cal Academy spans my graduate and curatorial assistant work from 2005-2011 and my return in 2018 to present. I studied the taxonomy of Paleotropical Mendoncia (Acanthaceae) for my MS degree and was lucky enough to travel to Madagascar twice. Now, I manage the collection and look forward to the challenging yet fulfilling work ahead with our great team.
Nathalie Nagalingum studies the evolution and diversification of plants, particularly ferns and cycads, and also oversees the Academy’s botany collection. Nagalingum is one of just a handful of researchers worldwide who studies cycads, a palm-like plant that comprises the most endangered group of organisms on Earth. In addition to her research, Nagalingum is passionate about museum science and the opportunity to use her research findings to inform broader conservation projects.