Rhododendron Research Network

Newsletter - July 7, 2021
In this issue:

Virtual Connections Series 2021

Building Local and International Partnerships

August 19-20, 2021
The Rhododendron Research Network is proud to present the second installment of the Virtual Connections Series. 

Whether you are a scientific professional, a community-based researcher, or a gardener who loves to learn all you can about Rhododendron, we hope this conference will expand your network and your imagination.

TWO Plenary Lectures!
August 19th - Dr. Jean Burns, Case Western Reserve University
  • Rhododendron pests and diseases in a changing climate.
August 20th - Dr. Matthias Ullrich, Jacobs University Bremen
  • A systematic approach to phytochemically evaluate the antimicrobial activities of a large subset of Rhododendron species.
 PLUS Much More!
  • Focus on networking and collaborative project planning
  • Live zoom presentations and panel discussions, with scientific content geared toward a general audience
  • Breakout groups and virtual convention space for discussing more technical content
  • Free to attend and open to all
  • Register and submit poster presentations by August 5th
Click HERE for registration
Expanding community science tools in Rhododendron
Now, a new way to share the joy of Rhododendron research with the public.

R-RN member Dr. Jean Burns was awarded funding through the Case Western Reserve University Expanding Horizons Initiative to support development of new data tables and new user interfaces for the RA-Metrics database.

RA-Metrics was originally created to support the Brueckner Rhododendron Project, a community-based research program evaluating the performance of Rhododendron hybrids created by Dr. Joseph Brueckner. The RA-Metrics database includes standardized forms that facilitate accurate data entry, along with a cell phone interface for ease of use by home gardeners.

The new database, named RA-Leafy, is being developed by Dr. Burns in collaboration with technology company VCOMP Inc., and will expand on the original RA-Metrics database by adding the ability to track leaf morphology and leaf health. RA-Leafy will be incorporated into a community-based science research project led by Dr. Burns and will include opportunities for the public to participate in the research by collecting data on plants growing in their own home gardens.

The RA-Leafy expansion of RA-Metrics represents the first step in a long-term plan by members of the Rhododendron Research Network to develop data tools and projects that engage members of the public in Rhododendron research.

Click HERE to learn more about Rhododendron research in the Burns lab.

Call for Steering Committee Nominations

Become a leader 
in our global network
The Rhododendron Research Network is a collaborative working group, with all activities driven by passionate steering committee members who are committed to creating a thriving and inter-connected global Rhododendron research community.

Now, with the 5 year anniversary of our network coming up, three of our valuable team members will depart the committee in December of 2021. Dr. Valerie Soza, Dr. Emily Gillespie, and Dr. Robbie Hart will be moving on to apply their time and talents to other projects. We wish to extend a gigantic thank you to all three of our departing committee members, your hard work and enthusiasm for this network has set the stage for the ongoing success of our ever-expanding global community. While we are sad to see our amazing teammates go, we are excited that this opens up the opportunity for new folks to get involved. 

Now, the Rhododendron Research Network invites self-nominations for the following steering committee positions:

Web Resources Development
Collaborative Review Articles
Community Science Experiments
International Scientists Representative
Public Gardens Representative

Positions are 3-year terms beginning January 2022, with opportunity for renewal. Steering committee members are expected to work together to design and implement projects which advance Rhododendron Research Network objectives within their chosen focus area, and to participate in the annual planning and reporting process. Time commitments are flexible, but a minimum of 4 hours per month is requested.

Click HERE to learn more about R-RN objectives, past and current initiatives, and network governance. Direct your questions and nominations to Dr. Juliana Medeiros (jmedeiros@holdenfg.org).

Networking and Communication

New R-RN YouTube Channel
The Rhododendron Research Network has created a YouTube channel, to showcase seminars, workshops and tutorials related to Rhododendron research.

Recent videos include webinars hosted by R-RN members Dr. Bob Weissman and Dr. Valerie Soza on research tools created by R-RN, a lecture by Dr. Alan Elliot of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh describing his work on global Rhododendron conservation efforts with Botanical Gardens Conservation International, and a seminar by R-RN Co-Chair Dr. Juliana Medeiros on how her physiology research provides insights into the future of Rhododendron in a warming world.

Click HERE to explore videos, and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss out on new content. 

Contact Juliana Medeiros (jmedeiros@holdenfg.org) to suggest a video for hosting on our channel.

Publication Highlight

Impacts of Rhododendron maximum roots on soil microbes
A recent article by Osburn et al. explores how population expansion of Rhododendron maximum and subsequent proliferation of R. maximum roots like those shown above, could impact the soil microbiome, with implications for ecosystem dynamics and forest management.

R. maximum is native to the forests of southern Appalachia, in the Eastern United States, where it forms impenetrable thickets and creates soil conditions that are inhospitable to other plants. This region is experiencing dramatic changes in plant community composition following extensive mortality of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) due to infestations of hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae). In many places where hemlock populations are declining, native populations of R. maximum are now expanding to fill the open niche space.

R. maximum roots have a specialize relationship with a type of soil fungi known as ericoid mycorrhizae, which help the plant access soil nutrients in exchange for sugars derived from photosynthesis. This study investigated how soil microbial communities might change as hemlock forests transition to R. maximum thickets.

They show that removal of R. maximum resulted in a decline in ericoid mycorrhizae and an increase in arbuscular mycorrhizae and wood saprotrophs. Thus, R. maximum colonization or removal could have far reaching consequences for forest soil properties and plant communities in the southern Appalachian region. This work will also inform local forest management practices and recovery projects.

Osburn ED, Miniat CF, Elliott KJ, Barrett JE (2021) Effects of Rhododendron removal on soil bacterial and fungal communities in southern Appalachian forests. Forest Ecology Management 496:119398. 

Click HERE to read the full article.

R-RN Researcher Spotlight

Dr. Shweta Basnett
This feature spotlights the research programs of R-RN participants, with a goal to build a thriving collaborative network of Rhododendron scientists. For this issue our Spotlight features work by Dr. Shweta Basnett.

Dr. Basnett completed her PhD research under the supervision of Dr. Soubadra Devy, producing a thesis entitled, "Influence of phenological patterns and climate change on plant pollinator interactions of high altitude Rhododendron species in Sikkim, Himalayas".

Now, she is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATree, Bangalore, India) and recently named a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Maryland, USA. Her work continues to focus on plant-pollinator interactions, including a project funded by the Research Foundation of the American Rhododendron Society on "Assessing reproductive and biochemical traits of Rhododendrons along the elevation gradient in the Eastern Himalaya". This project taking place at Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary is considering how floral traits and pollinator resources of Rhododendron species respond to a change in temperature across elevation. Dr. Basnett is the first to study climate effects on these important plant-pollinator interactions at such a large geographical scale in the Himalayan region.

In addition, Dr. Basnett has been working on plant-pollinator interactions at Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, situated in West Sikkim, which is home to many Rhododendron species, including R. arboreum, R. barbatum, R. grande, R. falconeri, R. grifitthianum, R. dalhousiae, and many more. The Sanctuary spreads over 104 sq. km and shares an international border with Nepal. Here, Rhododendron trees and shrubs co-occur with castanopsis, hemlocks, and bamboos.

The image above shows pollinator interaction of Rhododendron species Dr. Basnett has observed in Barsey Rhododendron sanctuary, a beautiful Stripe-throated yuhina visiting tubular-campanulate flowers of R. grande.

Click HERE to read more about Dr. Basnett's work at Barsey
Click HERE to learn more about Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment


American Rhododendron Society

A new podcast all about Rhododendron

Our brand new podcast is all about telling the curious tales of Rhododendron.

It seems like everyone has their own story about how they fell in love with Rhododendron, and their own unique way of appreciating the plants, from growing and breeding them to researching their ecology and medicinal properties. Now there is a place to share those stories, in a new podcast created by The American Rhododendron Society Next Generation Program called “For the Love of Rhododendron”.

Upcoming episodes will cover topics ranging from explaining the process and applications of Rhododendron genome sequencing, to a conversation about breeding cold hardy plants, and even tales of Rhododendron bird-pollination in the Himalayas. Whatever the topic, the podcast promises fun stories, lively debates and loads of educational content to bring new scientific dimensions and highlight the cultural relevance of Rhododendron. Links provided on the American Rhododendron Society home page will provide extended learning opportunities, with links to blogs, videos and webpages that give in-depth explanations of topics covered in each episode.

Click HERE to listen, follow, and share the podcast.
Click HERE to request be interviewed or submit your ideas for future episodes

Advance & inspire your research and collaborations on Rhododendron
Click Here to learn more about Rhododendron Research Network
Click Here to learn more about the American Rhododendron Society

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