Vascular Plant Herbarium

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Opportunities for Graduate Studies
at the Arizona State University Vascular Plant Herbarium

For over 35 years students interested in plant systematics have done their graduate studies at Arizona State University, where MS and PhD degrees are offered. Systematics (or taxonomy) is the science of classification and attempts to organize the biodiversity of the World into a logical system based on apparent evolutionary relationships. Such a system serves as the basis for all the other biological sciences, e.g., ecology, genetics, and agriculture. We now live in a period of rapid change, apparently mainly caused by human activities, that is rivaling the mass extinctions of the past in its destruction. Humanity urgently needs to inventory the biodiversity we have so that practical policies can be implemented to save as much as possible. Tropical regions are undergoing the most rapid biodiversity loss and yet perhaps 25% of the plant species still remain to be described in the New World Tropics. And here in Arizona, during the last 60 years or so we have found about one additional plant species in the state per month. Most of these are new arrivals, non-natives from distant lands, but many are true Arizona natives that have been overlooked until now. Obviously there is plenty of work for plant systematists to do.

Master students at the ASU herbarium often do floristic inventories of particular regions. Two recent examples are Flora of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Cochise County, Arizona by Elizabeth Makings San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area; and Flora and Vegetation of the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon, Coconino County, Arizona by Edward Gilbert West Fork Oak Creek. These studies establish a baseline of what plants grow in a particular area, provide voucher specimens for all the taxa, and simplify identification for future workers. Students that do floristic studies become expert plant identifiers. Graduates often work for universities, government agencies such as the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, botanical gardens or herbaria. For example, recent grads are now employed by the San Diego County Planning Department, Arizona State University, the United State Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Clemson University, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Desert Botanical Garden, et al. .

Another kind of study is the revision or monograph. These studies may lead to MS or PhD degrees depending upon their complexity and breadth. These studies are in-depth analyses of particular groups, usually a genus or complex of species within a genus. The objective is to discover and describe what species exist and explain how they are distinguished, make estimates of their evolutionary relationships, map their distributions, sort out their nomenclature (which is often complex), and to use various kinds of data and techniques in the analysis. Beyond morphology, a monograph might include information from cytology, molecular systematics, morphometrics, anatomy, phytochemistry, pollination biology, etc. Two recent monographic studies by ASU students have been A monograph of Mosiera (Myrtaceae) by Andrew Salywon and Biosystematics of Opuntia Subgenus Cylindropuntia (Cactaceae), the Chollas of Lower California, Mexico by Jon Rebman. Monographic studies prepare a student to teach, to do research or for curatorial work in an herbarium or botanical garden.

If you are interested in graduate studies in plant systematics feel free to contact me, Dr. Leslie R. Landrum, Herbarium Curator and Senior Research Scientist ( My specialties are the Myrtaceae (the myrtle family) of Latin America and the floras of Arizona and Chile.

Associated faculty include:

Dr. Marty Wojciechowski (, molecular systematist specializing in Fabaceae (the bean family).

Dr. Kathleen Pigg (, paleobotanist.

Dr. Julie Stromberg ( riparian plant ecologist.

Dr. Quentin Wheeler ( entomologist and specialist in cybertaxonomy.

©2006 Arizona State University | Revised Oct 2011
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