Arboretum announces new joint faculty appointments

by Jon Hetman, Director of External Relations & Communications
January 2, 2014

Elizabeth Wolkovich

Arboretum announces new joint faculty appointments

Joint Faculty Appointments

New Harvard University Assistant Professors of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at the Arboretum, Robin Hopkins (left) and Elizabeth Wolkovich.

The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University announces the appointment of two assistant professors who will teach and pursue research programs at the Arnold Arboretum as joint faculty with the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) at Harvard University. The arrival of Drs. Robin Hopkins and Elizabeth Wolkovich this January represents a significant step in expanding the Arboretum’s capacity for scholarship and its impact in the life sciences, initiated by the 2011 opening of the Weld Hill Research Building. Additionally, the appointments will play a central role in the Arboretum’s enhanced participation in educating undergraduates in the life sciences at Harvard.

Assistant Professor Robin Hopkins investigates the process of speciation in natural populations, a critical question in the field of evolutionary biology. To explore this subject as part of her PhD studies at Duke University, Robin studied two species of the genus Phlox. Applying modern molecular techniques to study flower color variation in phlox, Robin was the first to identify the genetic basis of reinforcement in a natural system. Her analyses and garden experiments provide further evidence of how plants diversify and the role that pollinator behavior can play in plant speciation. At the Arboretum, Robin will continue to investigate phlox, with a growing focus on reproductive incompatibility between emerging species or distinct populations of the same species, and theoretical work aimed at estimating the key evolutionary forces at work in the system.

Assistant Professor Elizabeth Wolkovich explores the influence of climate change on the assembly of plant communities. Integrating the disciplines of ecology, climatology, and phenology, Lizzie studies how plants have responded and may continue to respond to global warming. To address these questions, she has amassed a flowering time dataset for more than 14,000 plant species, including more than 30 years of data for approximately 2,000 of those species. Contrary to expectations, Lizzie has discovered that experimental studies of climate change greatly under-predict observed responses in natural environments. Most recently, she has shown that numerous temperate plant species previously thought to be unresponsive to climate change are in fact quite dynamic in their responses. Such results are liable to be hugely important for developing better predictive models of how plants will respond to future change.

Increasing the coordination of research and educational activities between Harvard University and the Arboretum will expand and enhance use of the resources represented by the Arboretum’s living collections, herbaria, and libraries/archives. Importantly, the research programs of joint faculty with OEB—which also includes the laboratory of Director William (Ned) Friedman, Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology—will significantly increase scholarship on plants at Harvard and generate meaningful outreach through Arboretum programming. With the partnership of Harvard OEB, the Harvard Graduate School of Design, departmental faculty, and undergraduate and graduate students, the Arboretum will continue to build even more substantive programs for outreach that share Arboretum collections and state-of-the-art science with the public.

“With denial of evolution and climate change reaching epidemic proportions, institutions such as the Arnold Arboretum that sit at the intersection of academia and the public sphere are as important as ever,” said Director Ned Friedman. “I am truly pleased to welcome two such distinguished colleagues working to reveal the beauty and complexity of the evolutionary process, as well as the potential dangers facing Earth’s biosphere due to human-induced environmental changes.”

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