The Biology Department Fall Seminar Series will begin on September 11, 2015, with distinguished guest speaker Cynthia Morton of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Morton’s presentation will be in the HUB, Susquehanna room at 11:00 a.m.
The title of her seminar presentation is “Conservation of Our Urban Forest Health and Sustainability via Tree Genetic Diversity.”
An urban environment rich with trees is highly valued for its
aesthetic qualities as well as its environmental
benefits, such as reducing summer
cooling costs, carbon sequestration, interceptingairborne pollutants, and reducing storm water
runoff. In the United States, urban
forests are estimated to contain about 3.8 billion trees, with an estimated structural asset value
of $2.4 trillion(Nowak et al. 2002). Billions of federal, local,
and private dollars are being spent
annually on management, labor, and the trees themselves as part of tree revitalization
projects, and millions more are being spent by individual homeowners to
improve their environment and
Despite this multibillion-dollar urban tree economy, little work has been done to understand
urban tree genetic diversity as an issue of vulnerability, or to
examine the long-term impacts of
urban tree genetic diversity on the sustainability of the urban environment.
Work conducted by Cynthia Morton, PhD, in 2008
compared the level of genetic variation in London Plane trees already
existing in the Pittsburgh area with
trees of the same species currently available from three commercial nurseries. The genetic
diversity was far greater in the older urban tree samples compared to that
of the nursery samples, indicating
that the nursery industry has been selectively cloning to produce new trees. While cloning trees
is in itself a benign practice, doing so on a mass scale without
a proper understanding of the
implications of drastically reducing the genetic diversity of urban forests is ill-advised.
greater understanding of urban tree genetic diversity will allow policy
makers, city planning and
environmental agencies, and the nursery industry to make informed decisions and recommendations to improve
practices for maintaining a robust tree landscape for the future.
As a botanist, Morton has worked locally and internationally to collect specimens
for phylogenetic analysis of
molecular and morphological data. The range of projects include angiosperm phylogenetics, redefining the
citrus family, constructing genomic
maps, investigating park and nursery tree genetics, and cleaning ground water.
Morton’s research has been featured in newspapers and videos and has been
published in peer-reviewed scientific
Department of Biology