Past Research Projects

BRIT staff have been involved in a variety of projects in Texas and at international sites. The following highlights many of the projects that were completed within the past fifteen years. 

Andes to Amazon Biodiversity Program in Peru (AABP)

In 2004, the Andes to Amazon Biodiversity Program at BRIT teamed up with the Texas Christian University (TCU) Environmental Science and Biology programs in the College of Science and Engineering to provide graduate-level education opportunities in biodiversity and environmental science. The AABP team worked in the Peruvian Andes and Amazon for over seven years, collaborating wth several other scientific organizations and non-profits to better undersatnd the region's rich biological diversity and develop conservation planning. Read more...

Ecology, Distribution, and Threats to Salvia pentstemonoides

During 2013, BRIT botanists Kim Taylor and Bob O'Kennon worked to document the current distribution, abundance, habitat, and threats to Salvia penstemonoides (Big Red Sage). The 2012 Texas Conservation Action Plan identified this species as one in need of additional information prior to further conservation decisions. Habitat models and extensive surveying of the known range of S. pentstemonoides were carried out to systematically look for new populations. All populations were examined to determine health of the population, habitat preferences, and associated species. Current and potential threats to species existence, recommendations for species conservation, and recommendations for further action were outlined.

Papua New Guinea

Former BRIT researcher Robert J. Johns worked in collaboration with staff from national and regional herbaria in New Guinea and Indonesia to document the botanical and ecological diversity of critical areas in the island. The research team developed a collections database of over 350,000 vascular plants using data from new expeditions and from existing collections. This project serves as a first step towards the development of better conservation plans. Read more...

Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas

This flora was the first fully illustrated flora for any region of Texas or adjacent states. It is the most comprehensive guide to a large portion of the diverse plant life of Texas and covers all the native and naturalized vascular plants known to occur in North Central Texas, an area about the size of Kentucky. Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas includes descriptions of 2,233 species, or nearly half the plants known in the entire state of Texas. To learn more about the project, view PDFs of the book, or order a copy, click here.

BRIT Scientist Provides Help in Confirming the Identity of Echinacea

Echinacea is one of the world's most popular herbal remedies, used to treat or prevent cold symptoms such as sore throats and stuffy noses. However, consumers can't always be sure that preparations labeled Echinacea really are Echinacea. Research recently published by Botanist Harold W. Keller, Research Associate with the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, could help eliminate this problem and make the identification of individual kinds of Echinacea faster and easier. Companies that produce herbal remedies can use his findings to make quality-controlling their Echinacea products much simpler. Read more....

Clear Fork Environmental Assessment

The BRIT research and education facility is located just across from the Clear Fork of the Trinity River. The City of Fort Worth sits at the convergence of two watersheds of the Trinity River. The Clear Fork includes two major reservoirs, Lake Weatherford and Lake Benbrook, while the West Fork has three reservoirs, Lake Worth, Eagle Mountain Lake, and Lake Bridgeport. The watershed includes the western half of Tarrant County, half of Parker County, most of Wise County, and parts of Johnson, Jack, Denton, Montague, Young, Clay, and Archer counties. Research and educational activities that use watershed level analyses help us to learn how to manage water, soil, plants, energy, and food for maximal benefit and minimal cost. 

Applied Research

In her photo/video blog, former BRIT Researcher and Applied Ecologist Karen Hall hopes to inspire new paradigms of thought as you follow her pondering big picture questions about nested, non-linear, complex natural and cultural systems. For her, it isn't enough that we study plants. She wants us to study our motivations and ourselves, too -- the surest path to conservation of more plants. To learn more about her project and to see her blog, click here.

Horses on the Prairie

Prairies used to be home to bison, elk, deer, and other large herbivores whose hooves would aerate the soil and whose grazing habits helped with the germination of native plants and grasses. During November 2013, BRIT became the temporary home of twelve horses who helped our researchers study the impact of grazing herbivores on our restored prairie habitat. Read more...

Ranch Resilience

As climate and urban growth patterns change our landscapes, BRIT is at the forefront, helping ranchers to work toward resilience in the face of change. Working with the significant knowledge base of local ranchers, we can help identify plants, conduct soil surveys, establish weather stations, grade habitats and recommend management practices that will better enable ranchers to manage their lands sustainably. During November 2014, BRIT hosted a field training day for staff and volunteers conducting a tree survey on a local ranch. Knowing what trees occur where will enable this rancher to plan for future growth and use of the land. Participating staff and volunteers walked away with much richer knowledge of plant identification and scientific methodologies.

Focusing on the Core

The core of BRIT's work is based in plant diversity, discovering new plants and conserving them as preserved and living collections. Agrobiodiversity (crop plant diversity) is less well conserved around the world. However, BRIT's former Research Director, Will McClatchey's research on fruit tree diversity is leading the way. He has moved to Oregon to work on the agrobiodiversity of cider apple and other fruit trees. Read more...

Sustainable Vineyards / Orchards Project

Orchard and vineyard biodiversity is a natural fit to studies on climate change because the timing of apple and grape flowering and fruit development changes due to variation in average seasonal temperatures. Sensitivity of apples and grapes to these variations provides the scientific community with additional ways to monitor local environmental disturbances. People who grow apples and grapes are well aware of the dates at which specific life-history events occur, and they have noted that these dates have been changing. Recent research has correlated climate change with fluctuations in flowering times for cider apple cultivars, and these shifts could cause certain varieties of cultivars and grapevines to fail in environments that once supported them. Read more...

Cider Apple Agrobiodiversity

Cider production is an ancient practice in many regions of the world and relies directly on engineered ecosystems called orchards. These traditional orchards, managed much less strictly than modern orchards, are often species-diverse ecosystems that are maintained for the cultivation of apple cultivars bred specifically for the production of cider. Fromer BRIT Researchers, Dave Reedy and Will McClatchey, conducted cider research for several years to determine the impact of cider-apple tree cultivaton on ecosystem diversity. They also studied the biodiversity of the orchards, particularly whether or not it has decreased due to the recent resurgence in popularity of cider. Read more...

Documenting the Flora of the Hellshire Hills and Goat Islands in Jamaica

The Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collei) was thought to be extinct for most of the last century—a casualty of predation by introduced hogs, cats, and mongoose—but was rediscovered in Hellshire in 1990. After twenty years of intensive conservation efforts, the wild population is estimated to be fewer than 250, but the iguanas’ only habitat, the forest of Hellshire—part of Jamaica's Portland Bight Protected Area—is under increasing threat from illegal wood harvesting and charcoal burning. The plants of Hellshire had not previously been comprehensively studied, but with a grant to the Caribbean Wildlife Alliance in 2012 from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, the flora has now been documented by botanists from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) and UWI so that researchers can find which plants C. collei commonly eats to help conservation efforts. Read more...

Capacity Building / OSN

BRIT researchers strive to include capacity building in each of the research projects that they conduct. Many of the researchers have been involved in the creation of field schools or new programs within schools that help educate students. In particular, the Open Science Network in Ethnobiology (OSN) is a project funded by the National Science Foundation that is being coordinated by BRIT. OSN is a collaboration between educators, science professionals, and students to help inspire and inform the next generation of scientists. Read more...

Re-Discovering Wild Orchids

In February 2016, Dr. Sula Vanderplank traveled to the coastal wilds of Baja California, Mexico, in an attempt to relocate a population of native orchids, specifically chaparral rein orchids (Piperia cooperi). The one known on the mainland of Mexico and has not been seen in a decade, despite repeated attempts to relocate it. After driving to the appropriate habitat, approximately 10 plants were found on north-facing slopes growing with ferns, mosses, wild onions (Allium praecox), and the coast jepsonia (Jepsonia parryi). Though it’s considered common elsewhere (California), this orchid is rare in Baja California, and this newly relocated population is threatened by development and agricultural conversion.

Herbarium Inventory

Since its beginnings in 1987, the BRIT herbarium has been a repository for orphaned herbaria; today it reports more than one million specimens. However, the exact number and detailed information on many of those specimens was not available until, in 2015, BRIT conducted a full inventory of its collection. The project took eleven months and, by the end of that time, over 850,000 specimens had been inventoried. Read more...

Shaw’s Agave: Binational Collaborative Conservation Research

As part of a binational conservation effort for the charismatic Shaw's agave (Agave shawii ssp. shawii), BRIT Biodiversity Explorer Dr. Sula Vanderplank collaborated with the staff at Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, California. Shaw's agave is found in just a few areas of the United States but is more common in the threatened coastal habitats of northern Baja California, Mexico. Because Shaw's agave is long-lived and can reproduce clonally, but also flowers once in its lifetime, researchers conducted an assessment of how the agave is pollinated. To do so, a team went on an expedition to Baja California to look at this plant in the middle of its range where it grows abundantly on the coastal bluffs. The results from this expedition were recently published in the journal of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America.

The Mid-South Prairie Symposium

BRIT Biodiversity Explorer, Dr. Dwayne Estes, organized the Mid-South Prairie Symposium in May 2016 at his base in Clarksville, Tennessee. One hundred and seventy-six participants representing more than 50 agencies attended the three-day event. The event featured nearly 30 invited speakers from throughout eastern United States and fieldtrips to nearby Fort Campbell Army Base in order to see the Southeast’s largest remaining tallgrass prairie and to Roundstone Native Seed in Munfordville, KY in order to see one of the nation’s leading producers of native prairie seed. The event was heralded as one of the most significant conservation meetings in the Mid-South in decades.

Research Publications

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

Current Research

Our researchers generally focus their projects around the themes of biodiversity exploration, botany science core, and sustainability. Read more...