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Dr. David E. Fairbrothers

David E. Fairbrothers, 1956.
David E. Fairbrothers headshot.

The work of Dr. David E. Fairbrothers, Professor Emeritus and former chair of the Department of Biological Sciences of Rutgers University, has been very diverse, covering plant systematics, taxonomy, serology, botanical history, and biodiversity conservation. His work has greatly impacted the state of New Jersey's natural areas and living organisms and future generations will continue to benefit from his efforts.

Dr. Fairbrothers served as Curator of the Chrysler Herbarium from 1954–1988. During this time, the Chrysler Herbarium collection grew from 37,000 specimens to 140,000 specimens Dr. Fairbrothers utilized the unique specimens in the herbarium to document the locality and rarity of plant species and implement conservation of the flora of New Jersey.

Rare and Endangered Species

Pine barren gentian.Swamp pink.

(far left) The pine barren gentian (Gentiana autumnalis) is a rare plant in New Jersey

(left) A specimen of the swamp pink (Helonias bullata), collected in 1883, by A.C. Apgar and acquired by then state botanist Nathaniel Lord Britto

Dr. Fairbrothers and other researchers used Chrysler herbarium specimens to produce the first State list of Rare and Endangered Plants in the United States (1973). This publication was significant in helping persuade the United States Congress to enact the first U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1973, and the Congress request for publication of the Endangered and Threatened Plant Species of the United States in 1975. Information obtained from the Chrysler Herbarium's New Jersey specimens is especially important for the conservation of rare plants such as the bog asphodel and Knieskern's beaked-rush. New Jersey represents the global stronghold for another rare plant, the swamp pink, harboring more than 70 percent of the world's population of this species. The herbarium provides critical records need to assess the status of plants in New Jersey.

Plant Chemosystematics

Dr. Fairbrothers was a pioneer in chemosystematics and the use of serological methods to assess systematic relationships between closely related plant taxa. By combining pollen morphology and the use of protein antisera he merged the use of traditional morphology and modern technology. He was also the first researcher to develop techniques to utilize allozyme analysis to study populations of endangered plant species, a precursor to today's large field of molecular systematics.

Pinelands National Reserve

Through the leadership of Professor Fairbrothers the Pinelands National Reserve, comprising over one-million acres in New Jersey, was established. In 1983 the Pinelands Reserve was designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations.

Map of New Jersey showing the Pinelands National Reserve.
Curly grass fern.
(above right) The vast majority of curly grass fern (Schizaea pusilla) populations exist in the New Jersey pinelands.

New Jersey Ferns

In 1992 Dr. Fairbrothers co-authored the book New Jersey Ferns and Fern-Allies. This book is the most thorough field guide and reference for naturalists, ecologists, botanists, hikers, gardeners, and conservationists in the greater New York area.

New Jersey Ferns and Fern-Allies Book Cover.
Map of New Jersey.
Curly grass fern.

(above left and center) The book on ferns contains detailed locality for each fern species. The maps were made using many of the specimens in the Chrysler Herbarium.

(Far right) This specimen of curly grass fern (Schizaea pusilla), from the Chrysler herbarium, was collected by famed botanist John Torrey (possibly in 1834) at a stage coach stop in the pinelands called Quaker Bridge, the same locality where this species was originally discovered in 1805.