Jaguars, humpback whales, mustard plants and pitcher plants were center stage on Sept. 25 at the Flom Auditorium on Fordham’s Rose Hill campus.

Robert F.C. Naczi, Ph.D., curator of North American botany at the New York Botanical Garden Photo By Patrick Verel

“Conservation Conversations from the Corner,” a daylong colloquium, brought together speakers from Fordham University, the New York Botanical Garden and the Wildlife Conservation Society. It was the first gathering of its kind for the three institutions, and was planned with four goals in mind:

  • Building on common conversation issues;
  • Establishing a three-way dialogue to learn more about and support conservation interests, research and goals;
  • Providing a stronger foundation for collaboration;
  • Beginning to plan strategies as a larger group.

“Each of our institutions has developed and grown to be acknowledged as leaders in our respective fields of education and science,” said Nancy Busch, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, chief research officer and associate vice president of academic affairs.

“With such stature and physical proximity, it’s amazing to me that it’s taken us more than 100 years to come together for this conversation,” Busch continued. “But events both locally and globally suggest that conversations about conservation are timely.”

Her comments led into the first presentation, delivered by Steven J. Franks, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Fordham, on “Understanding the Genetics of Adaptation to Climate Change.”

For his research, Franks experimented with growing a species of Brassica rapa, or field mustard, in two locations in Southern California. Franks pinpointed the gene responsible for flowering, and accurately predicted that changes in rainfall—such as those expected from global climate change—influence the timing of flowering.

Robert F.C. Naczi, Ph.D., curator of North American botany at the New York Botanical Garden, detailed his ongoing research on a plant that is deadly for flies and ants. In “Conservation Status of the Western Hemisphere Pitcher Plants,” Naczi highlighted developments that threaten the Sarracenia, Darlingtonia and Heliamphora pitcher plants.

The carnivorous plants, which lure insects into elongated tube-shaped leaves filled with water and digestive enzymes, have fallen victim to loss of habitat from development in the Southeast and over harvesting for use in floral arrangements. He also cited “pitcher plant lust,” which causes collectors to harvest the plants from the wild, as an aggravating factor.

“Whether it’s their wonderful colors, intriguing shapes or fascinating natural history, most people are captivated by pitcher plants,” he said.

“We can buy these with ease. It’s not necessary, and yet wild collecting, poaching and collecting of large quantities persists. In fact, there’s a thriving black market of mature grown specimens that go most often to Europe.”


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.