The Future of Plant Research: A Symposium and Banquet Honoring the Legacy of David E. Fairbrothers

June 4, 2005

David Fairbrothers. This event was organized to honor David Fairbrothers' work during his 40+ years career at Rutgers University as a researcher, academic advisor, teacher, administrator, and colleague. David Fairbrothers'; historic influence over plant research, conservation of plants on both a local and nationwide scale, as well as protection of habitats in the NJ Pinelands cannot be overestimated. He was honored by former students, colleagues and his friends in a Mini-Symposium discussing his influence over plant research and conservation in the United States, with personal anecdotes from students and colleagues, and presentations of current cutting-edge plant research at Rutgers . This was also the kick-off for the fundraising campaign for the David E. Fairbrothers Plant Resources Center (FPRC), an umbrella organization envisioned to consist of the Chrysler Herbarium, the Rutgers Mycological Herbarium, Online Herbarium, Molecular and Plant Extract Archive and a K–12 Stakeholder outreach program. The endowment for the FPRC would secure funding for staff and activities that would benefit both New Jersey plant and citizens, as well as nationwide plant research.

Speakers and Presentations from Mini-Symposium

Richard Triemer (moderator)
Department of Plant Biology (Chair), Michigan State University

David Lee
Biological Sciences, Florida International University
"The Fairbrothers Laboratory at Rutgers in the 1960's: Plant Phylogeny and Biodiversity with a Special Flavor"

Some 40 years after the fact, I reminisce about the nature of plant systematics research conducted in David Fairbrothers' laboratory at the beginning of the revolution in phylogenetic systematics and plant population biology (including some embarrassing photographs!). In those days we used the techniques of immunology and protein electrophoresis to attempt to decipher relationships among plants, at different taxonomic levels. In many ways, that research was a preface to the dramatic developments in plant evolutionary biology and systematics that followed. My comments put David Fairbrothers' long term interests in plant biodiversity in historical perspective, and give justification for the establishment of the David E. Fairbrothers Plant Resources Center (FPRC).

Rob Wallace - Dept. of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University
"Professor Fairbrothers' Influence on Graduate Student Professional Development"

Being a graduate student in the Fairbrothers' Lab was an excellent experience – the diverse projects on plant groups ranging from magnolias and oaks, to sedges and cacti created an atmosphere of mutual learning and support – an ideal situation. DEF's willingness to mentor his students' research on these diverse topics, connected by common methodological threads, along with his encouragement to attend botanical meetings, present papers, and participate in local botanical activities established a 'fertile' setting which fostered significant individual professional development as researchers, as well as a "team" approach to studying plant diversity. The close geographic proximity of Rutgers to the New York Botanical Garden , and Professor Fairbrothers' personal friendships with the "giants" of Angiosperm taxonomy, enabled his students to meet world-class botanists such as Armen Takhtajan, Arthur Cronquist, Rolf Dahlgren, and Robert Thorne—demonstrating and promoting the international nature of the botanical community. The learning environment created at Rutgers by DEF, and the unconditional, personal support of his graduate students, provided an outstanding place for young botanists to grow and develop as professionals. It is most appropriate that the Plant Resources Center at Rutgers be named in honor of a person who has contributed so much to the understanding and preservation of the botanical biodiversity of the region, who is a world-renown expert in the application of serological techniques to the study of plant evolution, and who has so successfully promoted professional growth in the students who have been fortunate to work with him for their graduate training.

Paul Manos - Dept. of Botany, Duke University
"Catkins, Acorns, and the Trees of Life"

Research in David Fairbrothers' laboratory sparked my interest in macrosystematics, and in particular, tree species that were at one time placed in the classical group called the Amentiferae. This concept emphasized that small, simple flowers were ancestral within the flowering plants. As this notion was later overturned by American and Soviet systematists, one group of Amentiferae appeared to be natural (southern beech, walnut, bayberry, birch, oak), and these families were merged into the Hamamelidae, a grab-bag of successful and somewhat challenged lineages. In the 1970's and 80's, DEF was a leader in the globalization of macrosystematics, sharing new sources of data with systematists working in isolation. In a sense, DEF set the stage for the DNA-based revolution in plant phylogenetics and the ensuing integration of independent lines of evidence. The position of the core amentiferous families has now been settled, and a selection of highlights are presented.

Steven Clements - Vice President of Science, Brooklyn Botanic Garden
"The Changing Flora of the New York Metropolitan Region"

Herbarium specimens provide the only solid evidence of what the flora of the New York Metropolitan region consisted of in the past. The New York Metropolitan Flora program at Brooklyn Botanic Garden has amassed a database of herbarium specimen information for the region and has used this to understand how the flora has changed in the past century. As one might expect non-native species have shown a marked increase but native species have only shown a slight decrease during the same period

Steven Handel - Director, Center for Urban Restoration Ecology, Rutgers University
"Restoring the American Landscape: The Role of the Herbarium"

New attention to restoration ecology, the attempt to bring back biodiversity and ecological services to degraded lands, requires us to know historical patterns of vegetation and species ranges. With the enormous changes to landscapes caused by human land-use patterns over the past 100 years, herbarium records and published field botany research offer the best evidence of the biotic targets that we can consider. In this way records of plant life of the past become guideposts to a more sustainable future. This is especially critical in the New York-New Jersey metro area, where intensive habitat destruction has been routine for 300 years.

Art Tucker  - Director, Claude E. Phillips Herbarium, Delaware State University
"No Vouchers? Junk Science!"

Numerous examples exist in the scientific literature of irreproducible results because we have no idea what species was used in the research. On the other hand, proper vouchers have allowed us to re-evaluate published research and formulate new directions for the future. Clearly, a herbarium is more than "so much hay" and a valuable adjunct to all botanically oriented research.

Dennis Stevenson - Vice President and Rupert Barneby Curator for Botanical Science, The New York Botanical Garden
"Advances in Plant Sciences: The Fairbrothers Legacy"

In the past half century, few have had the eclecticism of David E. Fairbrothers. This breadth of interest has lead to profound ways in which we view the environment, the way we construct classifications, the way we view museum collections, the way we teach, the way we mentor the next generation, etc. As vitally important as the Fairbrothers legacy is to Rutgers University and New Jersey, it was also played out on the national and international stage where it forever changed the thinking and the way botany is done as well as the way results intersect with environmental and ecological research.

Jim White - Director of Rutgers' Mycological Museum; Department of Plant Biology & Pathology (Chair), Rutgers University
"Future Directions in Fungal Research: Systematics, Symbiosis, and Natural Products"

Predominant historical approaches to fungal research and some problems with historical approaches will be discussed. A more holistic and balanced approach to develop natural systems of classification is advocated over the current escalating use of sequence data to estimate evolutionary relationships. The view of fungi as discrete microorganisms may be displaced by a view of fungi as symbiotic and interconnected components in a community. This will increasingly result in an emphasis on "symbiosis studies" involving fungi. Some examples of symbiosis studies in the clavicipitalean fungi are discussed. Fungal natural product research has historically been important with many drugs originating from fungi, including cyclosporine, Lipitor®, and many antibiotics. Natural product research is currently less emphasized due in part to a perception that synthetic chemical approaches are superior. The development of methods and screens for water soluble bioactive components of fungi and a better understanding of how to elicit bioactive compounds in fungi may result in a renewed emphasis on natural product research.

Ilya Raskin - Director ICBG Central Asia; Plant Biology & Pathology/ Biotechnology Center, Rutgers University
"Plants, Human Health and Biodiversity"

Plants hold a large potential for new drug discovery and bio-manufacturing. However, current interest in searching for new botanical therapeutics is decreasing due to the complexity of plant extracts, problems with reproducibility and standardization, difficulties in characterizing active ingredients, and by the political backlash from the unscrupulous bio-prospecting. Novel enabling technologies and approaches could make the discovery and development of botanical therapeutics more efficient and less controversial.

Lena Struwe - Director, Chrysler Herbarium, Rutgers University
"The David. E. Fairbrothers Plant Resources Center - A Vision for the Future"

The Chrysler Herbarium and Mycological Collections, are a unique library of over 180 000 collections, are the best source of information on the flora of New Jersey and N.E. America. The environment, natural vegetation and its plants are under immense pressure in the state. Not only is New Jersey the most densely populated state in the US, but is also subjected to environmental degradation and increased urbanization. Preservation of plant communities and natural habitats is needed to ensure potable water, clean air and to protect flora and fauna. It is also a resource for recreation, food production, and stabilization of small and large ecosystems. To conserve, preserve, protect and restore the flora it is essential that correct identification of species including invasive species is readily available in a center dedicated to green life, which is envisioned as the David E. Fairbrothers Plant Resources Center (FPRC). Apart from the herbarium and mycological collections, this center would also include a plant tissue, plant extract, and DNA storage facility. The herbarium would serve as the depository for vouchers for plant extracts used for pharmacological bioprospecting. This new research, outreach, and educational initiative would be a strong interdisciplinary and comprehensive program to preserve, evaluate, and develop the plant resources of New Jersey that would complement and strengthen many on-going local government and private initiatives.

Contact Information

Organizing committee - Rod Sharp, Lena Struwe, Sasha Eisenman, and Jim White.

Chrysler Herbarium: Lena Struwe, Director, Chrysler Herbarium, Rutgers University (Phone: 732-932 9711 x235,

Mycological Herbarium: Jim White, Rutgers University (Phone Number: 732-932 9711 x357,

Fundraising for FPRC: John Pearson, Rutgers Foundation (phone: (732-932 8808 x624,

David Fairbrothers, Rutgers University (Phone Number: (732-364 1424)

Background Information

Former students, colleagues and friends will be honoring the legacy of Emeritus Professor David E. Fairbrothers on Saturday June 4, 2005. They will be hosting a symposium on the future of plant biology research, a banquet and kick-off event for launching the D.E. Fairbrothers Plant Resources Center. The event will be held at Winants Hall, College Avenue Campus, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

The D.E. Fairbrothers' Plant Resources Center is an umbrella organization consisting of the Chrysler Herbarium, the Rutgers ' Mycological Herbarium, Online Herbarium, Molecular and Plant Extract Archive and a K–12 Stakeholder outreach program . The Center will provide important research and educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and various state departments and bureaus.

The proposed research facility is to be named for Dr. D.E. Fairbrothers, Emeritus Professor and Curator, Chrysler Herbarium, 1954-1988 and recipient of the prestigious Merit Award, the highest honor for lifetime achievement in research by the Botanical Society of America.

Fairbrothers scientific leadership resulted in building the Chrysler Herbarium into an extremely important regional herbarium. The herbarium plant specimens made it possible for researchers in the state of New Jersey to produce the first published list of Rare and Endangered Plants (1973) in the United States ; the publication was significant in helping persuade the United States Congress to enact the first U.S. Endangered Species Act in December, 1973. Information obtained from the Chrysler Herbarium formed the early data base used for the establishment of the New Jersey Natural Heritage Program.

Later under the leadership of David Fairbrothers, the herbarium collections provided important documentation of the Pinelands flora which was essential for the United States Congress to establish the Pinelands National Reserve (one million acres in New Jersey). In 1983 the Pinelands Reserve was designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations. Here again the resources maintained in the Chrysler Herbarium provided essential documentation.

About Rutgers University

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is one of the leading universities in the nation. The university is made up of 29 degree-granting divisions; 12 undergraduate colleges, 11 graduate schools, and three schools offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Five are located in Camden, seven in Newark, and 14 in New Brunswick/Piscataway.

About Cook College

Cook College is the land-grant college of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. It was created in 1973 and named in honor of George Hammell Cook (1818–1889), a renowned geologist and teacher at what was then called the Rutgers Scientific School. Cook College expanded the focus of its predecessors, including the College of Agriculture and then the College of Agriculture and Environmental Science.

Cook College is closely affiliated with the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES), which is mandated by the state to conduct mission-oriented research and outreach to address the needs of its residents as they relate to agriculture, natural resources, and human and community development. Although they are technically separate institutions, Cook and NJAES are part of a national land-grant system of colleges and universities that, by virtue of the 1862 Morrill Act, have a mission and mandate to serve residents, businesses, and communities through teaching, research, and outreach.

About Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension Services

Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) helps the diverse population of New Jersey adapt to a rapidly changing society and improve their lives through an educational process that uses science-based knowledge. We focus on issues and needs relating to agriculture and the environment; management of natural resources; food safety, quality, and health; family stability; economic security; and youth development.

RCE is an integral part of Cook College, the New Jersey Agriculture Experiment Station, and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, the State of New Jersey, and County Boards of Chosen Freeholders.