Lawrentians Present Ecuador Program Research @ National Gesneriad Society Convention

Nikita Coppisetti ’22 & Samika Hariharan ’20
Lawrenceville students Samika Hariharan ’20, Simon Cull ’20, Nikita Coppisetti ’22, and Ashley Lee ’21 were selected by the Conservation Committee of The Gesneriad Society to present at its 63rd Annual Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. The presentations focused on their experiences during the 2019 Lawrenceville in Ecuador Program and an ongoing research project through the Molecular Phylogenetics co-curricular.
Cull ’20 began by presenting a talk on the School’s 12-day research expedition to the remote rainforests of the Cordillera del Cóndor in southern Ecuador. The expedition was organized through the Harkness Travel Program during the 2019 spring break. Cull’s presentation explained the logistics of the expedition, including the remote trek to the summit of a sandstone mountain where students camped with members from the local community for five days. One of the research goals was the installation of a 0.25-hectare survey plot of trees. Several tree species featured in Cull’s preseatnation are potentially new to science and are housed in the museum at the Universidad Estatal Amazónica (Puyo, Ecuador) where they will be available for ongoing taxonomic research.
Hariharan ’20 then followed with a 11- minute video blog co-authored with Ashley Lee ’21. The video offered a daily travelogue to compliment Cull’s slideshow and elaborate on student experiences throughout the trip. Included were shots from the first and last nights in Quito, the hours of travel via bus and plane, the guinea pig feast in Loja, the plots and data collection work, beautiful new species, the stunning vista in the treetops of high camp, and more. The difficult but rewarding process of hiking up to and working at high camp was also captured in Hariharan’s presentation, along with more fun images of tourist adventures and hikes.
Coppisetti ’22 finished with a presentation on a phylogenetic study under Lawrenceville teacher John L. Clark, Lawrenceville Science Master and Aldo Leopold Teaching Chair, during the spring term’s Molecular Phylogenetics co-curricular. In the co-curricular, Lawrenceville students sequenced the DNA of various plants using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Evolutionary trees generated from DNA sequence data strongly support a remarkable relationship between the following two disjunct species: Chautemsia calcicola from the Minas Gerais state in southeastern Brazil and a recently discovered species of Diastema from the eastern Andean slopes of Peru. The Diastema is new to science and will be published in the next issue of the Edinburgh Journal of Botany (J.L. Clark & P. Moonlight, “A new species of Diastema (Gesneriaceae) from the eastern Andean slopes of Peru). The results of the study suggest that evolutionary relationships do not support current taxonomic boundaries.
Coppisetti, Cull, and Hariharan all agreed that Ecuador was a once in a life-time opportunity filled with new knowledge, friends, and experiences. Hariharan stated, “Even with all the mud and five-hour hikes, I would do it all over again.”
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