Monday, 5 December 2016

Kew Gardens taxonomy course: student review

Dried Specimen from Greece,
Order Caryophyllales
Image: Ciara Sugrue
Kew Gardens runs a course in Applied Plant Taxonomy, Identification and FieldSurvey Skills. We asked PhD student Ciara, who attended the course earlier this year, to tell us a bit about what she learned. Over to Ciara:

"In September 2016 I was fortunate enough to attend an Applied Plant Taxonomy, Identification and Field Survey Skills Course run by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I have just started a PhD at Loughborough University, where I will be studying the impacts of climate change and eutrophication on coastal sand dunes. 

This course was therefore a great opportunity for me to develop my plant identification and field skills, which I had previously learnt through volunteering with the BSBI this year.

The course lasted for two weeks and predominantly focused on learning how to identify plants.  We were taught how to recognise the key features of several orders and families using dried and live specimens, in an attempt to get out of our old bad habits, such as assuming a plant’s identity because  “it looks like that!”.  

Living Specimens of the
Family Compositae
Image: Ciara Sugrue 
This course was extremely helpful because we were exposed to both temperate and tropical plant specimens and learnt to identify them using a hand held lens, books and notes that were provided.

Part of the course focused on giving us introductory lectures into plant systematics, nomenclature and taxonomy. I found these lectures particularly interesting because they explained why we classify plants and animals (systematics), the rules and the process of how to name new species (nomenclature), and how names explain the relationship between plants based on botanist opinions (taxonomy). I learnt that these are the key building blocks for helping to group species by characteristics which allow us to identify plants. 

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is well known for its large and lavish gardens of tropical and temperate plants, as well as its herbarium containing over 7 million dried plant specimens. However, Kew is also an established scientific institute playing an important role in plant research and conservation. 

We had lectures highlighting Kew's role in international policy work such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Nagoya Protocol. CITES helps conserve plants threatened by international trade, and the Nagoya Protocol promotes the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from genetic resources and their utilisation. 

Undertaking vegetation surveys
using quadrats in Richmond Park
Image: Ciara Sugrue 
These policies emphasised the importance of legal plant collection. Additionally, we learned about the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, this provides the extinction risk of species, which can then assist with prioritising conservation efforts. 

An important part of undertaking vegetation surveys is not only learning how to identify plants correctly but also ensuring that the surveys and data recording is completed efficiently. We were taught a variety of skills, including how to survey in different habitats, how to use a GPS navigators and how to preserve specimens in the field. At the end of the two weeks we had a day trip to Richmond Park. It was a great day out where we were able to put into practice the skills we had learnt during the course at Kew".

Many thanks to Ciara for telling us more about this course. Check out the list of courses for botanists on our Training page.