FR ALIN E XPLORER SPRING 2018
Photo left: Dr. Duncan Porter, professor emeritus of biological sciences. Photo right: Dr. Jordan Metzgar, curator of the Massey Herbarium. Credit: Cassandra Hockman
lemurs eat. These photographs will serve him well in case specimens a re lost or the drying process doesn’t work as planned. Also while there, Semel worked with several local Malagasy guides to learn the common names for the plant species he was collecting. The guides know many local uses, including plants with bark that can be used to make rubber and others with medicinal properties. Thanks to Metzgar, who set Semel up with
plant specialists in the country through the Missouri Botanical Garden, collected plants have been identified by both their vernacular (common) and scientific names. Since Semel has spent so much time in Madagascar, and collected so much, he’s now working on a plant book for his study region with images to be used as reference. Once collected, Semel and his wife, Meredith, a budding biologist who studies lemur physiology, pressed
The Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech was officially founded in 1927 and has collected and catalogued over 115,000 specimens of lichens, vascular plants, fungi, and bryophytes; it is the largest herbarium in Virginia.
pla nts before placing them in drying racks. They also collected pla nt species “in replica tes,” mea ning they gra bbed five copies of each plant they hoped to identify. The plants were then packaged to be shipped back to the United States, though Semel had to obtain an import permit for them through Madagascar’s Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments. There are additional special permits required if any species are endangered. Once in the United States, the plants will first head to Jessica Rothman, a primate ecologist and anthropologist at Hunter College at the City University of New York, who runs a nutritional ecology lab. This will allow Brandon Semel and his collaborators, including Rothman, the chance to explore lemur nutrition a nd whether plant DNA found in lemur feces that Meredith Semel collected is in any way representative of primate nutrition, including what lemurs appear to consume. Though the plants are initially headed to New York, a full copy of what the Semels collected will
Editor: Kristin Rose