Rhododendrons from the Edinburgh Monographs
Science Project Officer, Major Floras Section, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
2011 EOL Fellow
The spark that fired my interest in biodiversity science was a series of lectures on taxonomy and systematics I was given as an undergraduate biologist at Wolverhampton Polytechnic (now a University). The lectures were given alternately by a zoologist and a botanist who both took pride in disagreeing with what their colleague had said the previous week. The penny dropped. Science is about exploring not just an outer world but how we related to and describe that world to ourselves.
I went on and trained as a botanist firstly with an MSc in Plant Taxonomy at Reading University and then a PhD on the systematics of Rhododendron at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. I was lucky to do field work in Arabia and contribute to the Ethnoflora of Soqotra before spending several years working in commercial IT. I had the opportunity to combine my software development skills and biological knowledge on a short contract for GBIF. This has been followed by a series of roles within the emergent biodiversity informatics community including acting as the convenor of the TDWG Technical Architecture Group, developing the Biodiversity Collections Index and working on the Pan-European Species directories Infrastructure (PESI) for the Natural History Museum London. During this time I have been somewhat frustrated - wanting to have my "own" group again. The Rubenstein Fellows funds will allow me to spend time working with rhododendrons again. I will be able to build a synthesis of the monographs that have been published over the last few decades largely from my home institution (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) thus greatly improving access to this work and pulling together data from multiple sources.
Since the invention of the printing press natural scientists have been making books of descriptions of species but these have often been poorly interrelated. Now we have the internet we can all contribute to a single virtual 'book' of the worlds species. This is the next step in understanding the worlds biota and it is exciting to be part of it.
Rhododendron species, including (A) Rhododendron campylogynum, (B) R. primuliflorum, (C) R. luteum, (D) R. meddianum, and (E) R. groenlandicum. Copyright owner and photo credit: Dr. Roger Hyam, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.