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Biodiversity Blog


Hidden Greenhouse Gems


On the roof of the Patterson building (PAT) lives one of the world’s most diverse greenhouse collections of mainly neotropical vines from the large genus of Passiflora. Dr. Larry Gilbert, Director of the Brackenridge Field Lab, has been growing them for studies of coevolution, chemical ecology and biodiversity of the insect fauna that relies on these plants. In these greenhouses over the years, Dr. Gilbert has grown over 200 species of passion vine, a few new to science, and some that no longer exist in the wild due to habitat loss.

 Inside large hoop house on north side of PAT.

There now is an international society of Passiflora enthusiasts, “The Passiflora International Society” (PSI), which consists of private citizens, growers and scientists that study these plants and attempt to keep rare species alive in cultivation. This fall, the society held an event here in Austin. Local speakers included many from the Integrative Biology community: Dr. Rob Plowes who did his PhD work on Passiflora demography in Costa Rica; recent Ecology, Evolution and Behavior graduate Colin Morrison who studied the chemical ecology of passion vine specialist insects; Dr. Bob Jansen whose group worked on plastid inheritance in interspecific hybrids, and Dr. Gilbert who spoke about evolution of extrafloral nectaries and mutualism with ants and parasitoids. The presence of this group meeting in Austin shows the importance of having such biodiverse resources of these neotropical vines.

The Passiflora International Society is a valuable community of growers and citizen scientists. Researchers often rely on PSI members' cultivation of previously-shared clones. Species lost from research collections needed, for example, for graduate student research projects. Not only are clones of required species retrieved from this cooperating PSI network, but members are active in exploring the world for little-known species and bringing them to the attention of scientists.

 Professor Adriana Briscoe (University of California - Irvine) visiting for work on a film.

So if you happen to be passing by the PAT building, or exploring Google earth, take a look at the roof. You may see the gems that are the neotropical vines greenhouses, nestled on the floors of brick and glass, invaluable to researchers in the department and the world. Also check out our Facebook album to see some of the amazing species represented in the greenhouses.

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