Current Research

The BRIT research staff strives to incorporate the "three Ds" into each of our projects: discovery, documentation, and dissemination. Our researchers generally focus their projects around the themes of biodiversity exploration, botany science core, and sustainability. By participating in a variety of projects around the world, from Peru and Jamaica to our home in Fort Worth, Texas, our researchers are always on the go...and always learning.

BRIT Research Seminars

BRIT Classes and Workshops

BRIT Exhibit and Researcher Seminar



The BRIT research staff and Research Associates have been working in Mexico for several years. The researchers work collaboratively with local populations and colleagues.

Sustainable Ranching

Our cowboys (and cowgirls) are as important as the beautiful lands that they steward in Mexico. Sustainable hunting and low-impact grazing are important economic incentives that help ranchers protect thousands of acres of habitat for game animals, acres which are often full of unique local plants, many of which are useful and/or medicinal, too.



Mediterranean Regions

Mediterranean climate regions of the world are all biodiversity hotspots, having a disproportionate number of plant species found no-where else in the world. Mediterranean Mexico is the far northwestern corner of the nation and is home to a wealth of narrowly restricted (endemic) plants that are found no-where else. Many of these plants are found along the coast where fog buffers the harsh summers and allows many plants to grow and flower for longer periods.



Coastal Ecosystems

The coast of Baja California is a biodiversity hotspot on land as well as sea. This program strives to link plant conservation to other disciplines, including archeology, anthropology, zoology, and the marine sciences, making land-sea connections and teaming up with various institutions, including Scripps Oceanographic Institute.



Working with Local Empirically Trained Environmental Experts

To ethnobotanists, environmental anthropologists, etc., “empirically trained” refers to someone who has become an expert in his/her own environment without having received a formal education. Empirically trained environmentalists are often keen observers of their locale. They take every opportunity to ask questions of and learn from anyone who can impart knowledge about the natural world. They are often very willing to share their knowledge, as well, so researchers link with them and other community members for the mutual benefit of all.


Arroyo La Junta / Los Cardones

A biodiversity survey, led by BRIT's Biodiversity Explorer Dr. Sula Vanderplank, addressed an immediate threat to biodiversity in Baja California Sur, Mexico: an open pit gold mine. The survey, the results of which are available for free download here, documented the presence of twenty-nine endangered species, 107 species endemic to the area within the planned mine footprint, and more than 875 species overall. The scientists stress that their findings represent only a fraction of the true diversity of the site, which is especially true for insect and invertebrate diversity. Final approval of the mine project is pending permits from other national government commisions. Read more... 





The Living Roof

BRIT's living roof is a one of a kind example in greenroof technology. Rather than a roof with plants adapted to hot environments, the roof is a recreation of an exisiting Texas habit. Biomimicked after a geology formation known as the Goodland/Walnut Barrens, BRIT's roof represents possibly the largest barrens habitat of its kind in the state. Rather than just looking for plants that can survive in hot environments, BRIT asked the questions, "What are the environmental parameters of a roof and what is its analog in our native environs?" Goodland/Walnut Barrens are characterized by extremely shallow limestone soils and low precipitation throughout most of the year. In green roofs, soil and water are the two components that make up most of the weight of the roof. Thus, choosing plants that grow in shallow soils and are extremely water-hardy make perfect sense. Read more....


The BRIT Prairie

BRIT's Prairie was designed to take an urban landscape, understand what the native condition of that landscape would be and then to return that landscape to a close mimic of its native referrent. BRIT's prairie is sited on what was once Fort Worth Prairie along river edges. Scientists searched for similar habitats and used those as models to build BRIT's Prairie. It serves as an experimental plot helping us to further understand whether native soils are needed to re-establish prairies, what the effects of native soils are on prairies and what are the management regimes needed to maintain healthy prairies. Read more...


Urban Landscape

The Tarrant County Urban Landscapes project seeks to improve the ecological integrity of the Fort Worth urban ecosystem by empowering residents to make informed decisions about their impact on local resources. One product of this project is the BRIT Ecoscapes web site which helps residents of Tarrant County select the ideal native plants for the soil and environmental conditions of their particular location. This project embodies BRIT’s mission “to conserve our natural heritage by deepening our knowledge of the plant world and achieving public understanding of the value plants bring to life.” 


BRIT Bioretention

Cities are filled with impervious surfaces that rainwater cannot penetrate through and recharge the groundwater. Precipitation runs off of impermeable surfaces such as roads, sidewalks, and parking lots, and straight into the city's storm water system. From there, the water is most likely deposited into a stream and transported somewhere further along the watershed.  When storm events occur, this flooding of the storm water system can cause large amounts of erosion downstream and wastes a precious resource that could otherwise be serving the plant and soil community on the landscape. Read more...


High Performance Landscapes

BRIT has partnered with the General Services Administration (GSA) on a research project addressing the links between urban landscaping decisions and their effects on the ecosystem services provided by landscapes. The researchers hope to inform landscaping design and maintenance decisions on federal lands in order to create a positive impact on the environment as a whole. To gauge the effects of landscaping decisions on ecosystem services, the project focuses on the water use of the landscape, pollinator habitat quality, and net carbon footprint. Research findings will result in a series of landscape recommendations and the development of a high performance evaluation tool for landscape designers. Read more...





Flora of Texas: Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands

Over the last 12 years, BRIT researchers, led by Research Associate Bob O’Kennon, have conducted an ongoing floristic inventory of the LBJ Grasslands. O’Kennon has documented over 1,200 species from the grasslands, including 15 species that were not previously known from North Central Texas and three species not previously known to science. Read more...


Southeastern United States: Clematis or Leatherflowers

This project, led by BRIT Biodiversity Explorer Dr. Dwayne Estes in collaboration with Aaron Floden (University of Tennessee), Theo Witsell (Arkansas Natural Heritage Program), and Dr. Joey Shaw (University of Tennessee, Chattanooga), aims to revolutionize the way botanist/horticulturalists view the North American leatherflowers, a group of beautiful herbaceous vines known for their small urn-shaped, leathery flowers. Most recent botanists have recognized up to 16 species, but this work indicates that there may be as many 25 species in the Southeast, with at least 9 that are undescribed and new-to-science. Read more...


Southeastern Riverscour Communities

Riverscour communities are open, rocky (bedrock, cobble, boulder, or mix) riparian communities dominated by shrubs, herbs, and grasses. They differ from sandbars and gravel bars in being highly physically stable over long periods of time, meaning they don’t shift or disappear frequently. Due to their stability and the fact that they are kept open by periodic flash floods, they often support relictual associations of species that are often rare or disjunct from other regions. Those in the Eastern Deciduous Forest region of the southeastern US are particularly interesting because by their very nature they are island-like in distribution, both within a given stream system and obviously between two separate streams. Most southeastern cobble bars are entrenched in deep gorges in mountainous regions and are sandwiched between large tracts of dense forests and boulder-strewn rivers. Read more...


Flora of Texas: Flora of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a popular tourist destination in central Texas, boasting an impressive diversity of plants. This granite outcrop is home to several rare and endemic species. Resident Research Associate Bob O’Kennon and BRIT Researcher Kim Taylor have set out to document the complete flora of the park, documenting 948 taxa. Read more...


Flora of Texas: Fort Worth Prairie

The Fort Worth Prairie (also known as the Grand Prairie) is a vast grassland with gently sloping, almost level plains dissected by valleys along rivers and streams. This prairie ecosystem is underlain by limestone geology with limestone bedrock near the surface across most of the region. Fort Worth occurs at the center of this region, giving it its name. BRIT botanists have been working to better understand this region which we call home as well as the threats the growing metroplex poses to the rare species that grow here. Read more...


Texas Plant Conservation

One of BRIT’s major goals is to raise awareness of the value plants bring to life and the threats they face worldwide. BRIT is committed to working toward the documentation of biodiversity and protection of rare and endemic plants in Texas and beyond. BRIT became a Participating Institution in the Center for Plant Conservation network in early 2016 to better collaborate with similar institutions throughout Texas, which is one of the most diverse regions of the United States. As a member of the Center for Plant Conservation, BRIT aims to combine strengths with other institutions to form a coordinated conservation program and increase knowledge about the value of plants and plant conservation to all residents of Texas. Read the BRIT blog to learn about the first step in protecting rare plants: documenting diversity. Read more...


Biosurveys / BioBlitzes

Biosurveys are an important research activity used to document the biodiversity of an area. It is these baseline surveys that allow us to better understand how natural and human influences change an environment over time. During biosurveys, we also collect specimens which we identify, mount on archival paper, and deposit in the BRIT herbarium. These specimens are often collected in duplicate so they can be exchanged with herbaria worldwide, which enhances the availability of research material in the BRIT herbarium and herbaria of our exchange partners.



Since 2013, BRIT has invested in a program to document plant biodiversity in the Southern Appalachians. In the most recent project of this effort, BRIT research associates Devin Rodgers and Chris Mausert-Mooney, led by BRIT botanical explorer Dwayne Estes, are piloting an effort to provide critical vegetation data so that researchers can investigate the long-term effects of climate change, invasive species, and acid rain on the ecology of high-elevation ecosystems in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This project will monitor high-quality brook trout streams and document the riparian vegetation of four watersheds in east Tennessee. It emphasizes the important connection between vegetation and broader ecosystem conservation.


Pennyroyal Plain Prairie Restoration Project

Researcher Dwayne Estes is leading efforts to restore the imperiled tallgrass prairies of central and western Kentucky and Tennessee through his Pennyroyal Plain Prairie Restoration Project (PPPRP). Prior to 1800, these prairies covered 3.7 million acres and supported bison and prairie chickens. Today, nearly 99.9% of the prairie has been destoryed; the last remnants can be found at Fort Campbell Army Base near Clarksville, TN. Estes has built a coalition of state and federal agencies, private corporations and businesses, and local and state leaders to help restore the 300 acres of prairie remnants on public land, using seed from the prairie at Fort Campbell, and to search for privately owned prairie remnants and work to secure those prairies from further loss.





Herbarium Cabinet Capacity Project

Biodiversity Informatician Jason Best and a team of high school-aged Junior Volunteers are utilizing computer vision technology to quantify the capacity of BRIT's herbarium cabinets. This visual analyzation of herbarium cabinet contents employs the same technologies that power self-driving cars and FaceSwape apps. This project, along with our recent inventory, will guide us in developing a strategy to grow and curate the collection.


Herbarium Digitization

No matter how much care is taken in preserving the plant specimens in BRIT's herbarium, they will degrade over time. For this reason, one of the goals of the BRIT herbarium is to image all of its specimens at high resolution and to log each specimen and the information about it into a database. This will allow the larger botanical community access to the specimens as they are now, even years from today. Read more...




BRIT research results are most often disseminated in peer-reviewed journal articles. But for many these can be dry to read (and presume that you understand the vocabulary) and say nothing of the process of research, as varied, nuanced, interesting, and complex as it is. BRIT research scientists, looking for a way to share their work broadly, blog about it. Visit with our scientists through their blogs to learn more their work, the places they visit, and their philosophical musings along the way...

Southeastern U.S. Research

Biodiversity hotspots are often understood to be areas of the world where little to no plant exploration has taken place, and there is partial truth to this notion. However, the other common thread that hotspots share is immense threats to their continuance, either through natural or cultural disturbances. THIS is why it is so important that they be studied. Biodiversity Explorer Dwayne Estes works in biodiversity hotspots in the Southeastern United States, conducting floristic research in unusual landforms such as riverscours and more typical plant communities such as prairie and glade systems. Learn more about his exciting research here.


The BRIT Blog

Our general BRIT blog is written by various BRIT scientists. However, Biodiversity Explorer Sula Vanderplank, whose work has her traveling from California to Mexico and Brazil, blogs quite often here. In addition, the blog includes occasional posts by other BRIT scientists documenting the processes and behind-the-scenes activity in our work. To learn about the engaging research BRIT researchers are doing now, click here.



Research Publications

This is a list of titles written by BRIT's research staff and research associates over the past five years. Read more...

Past Research

BRIT staff have been involved in a variety of projects both in Texas and internationally. Read more...