Plant detectives will soon be spreading across Alabama, searching for the hidden treasures of Alabama’s rich plant biodiversity through a newly launched program led by HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

HudsonAlpha’s Bicentennial Barcoding project is a citizen science effort to genetically catalog Alabama’s native plant diversity. For the project, Alabama high school students and educators will work with community partners to create an archive of plant species across the state. HudsonAlpha Educational Outreach will provide training and classroom resources for the two-year project, beginning with a small group of early adopters who attended a training session at HudsonAlpha in April.

Early adopters train with “Southern Wonder” author

Bicentennial Barcoding early adopters met at HudsonAlpha for an April training with special guest speaker Scot Duncan, a biology and urban environmental studies professor at Birmingham-Southern College and author of “Southern Wonder: Alabama’s Surprising Biodiversity.” Published in 2013, “Southern Wonder” combines the disciplines of ecology, evolution and geology into an explanation of why Alabama is home to more species than any other state east of the Mississippi River.

In his presentation, Duncan talked with the teachers about what types of plant species can be found in the state, why Alabama has so much biodiversity, and why it matters

“As a biologist, my current work is focused on the dynamics of rare plant communities,” said Duncan, “so there is a need for initiatives such as the Bicentennial Barcoding project. I was delighted to speak at HudsonAlpha today because what they’re doing here can play an important role in the preservation of the state’s biodiversity.”

Meet the early adopters

The early adopter group, composed of teachers and community partners from five different regions in Alabama, also collected plant samples and data during the day to prepare them to lead students through the process.

“I’m excited about discovering the biodiversity across the state, but I’m also excited that every region of the state will be represented in this project,” said Donna Sands of Graham Farm and Nature Center in Jackson County. “Our county is so small, this project will give teachers an opportunity to exchange ideas and collaborate with other educators from all over Alabama.” Sands will work with Emily Smith of Pisgah High School.

For other participants, the project offers an element of state pride. “Every time I hear about the outstanding biodiversity in our state – the most biodiverse state east of the Mississippi River – I feel a lot of pride,” said Maggie Johnston. “I think, ‘Wow! What a great state to live in!’” Johnston is the director of education at Camp McDowell in Winston County, and she will work with Susette Rohde of Meek High School in Arley, Ala.

Other early adopter partners include Leslie Goertzen, PhD, of Auburn University working with Drew Bagwell of Auburn High School in Lee County; Christine Olsen of Weeks Bay Reserve and 5 Rivers working with Mary Stuart of Fairhope High School in Baldwin County; and Brianna Davis of Sumter Central High School in Sumter County, whose students will be working with species in the Blackbelt prairie.

Become a Community Partner

We are searching statewide for community partners who are experts in Alabama native plants to partner with their local schools and catalog the biodiversity in our state. Please email jcarden@hudsonalpha.org to learn more about becoming a community partner.

Bicentennial Barcoding is a collaboration between HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and the Alabama Bicentennial. The project is made possible by the Lyndhurst Foundation and other philanthropic donations.

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