Why Biodiversity Matters: Plants and Animals Across Natural Systems in Brazil


Friday, October 29, 2021, 10:00am to 11:30am

Speakers: Christine Bacon, Associated Professor, Gothenburg University; Alex Antonelli, Professor, Gothenburg University & Director of Science, Kew Gardens; Gregory Thom, Postdoctoral Fellow, American Museum of Natural History (AMNH); Fernanda Werneck, Associate Researcher & Curator at INPA; Diego Vaz, Postdoctoral Reseacher, MCZ & OEB
Moderated by: Naomi E Pierce, OEB & Curator of Lepidoptera, MCZ; Scott V Edwards, OEB & Curator of Ornithology, MCZ

As a part of Harvard Worldwide Week 2021, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies Brazil Office, Museum of Comparative Zoology and Department of Evolutionary and Organismic Biology kicked off a three-part series of discussions on "Why Biodiversity Matters". This series aims to showcase the breadth of cutting-edge research related to biodiversity in Brazil being conducted by Harvard researchers and Brazilian colleagues as well as to promote broader discussions around the importance of studying and preserving biodiversity from scientific and societal perspectives. Part 3: "Why Biodiversity Matters: Plants and Animals Across Natural Systems in Brazil" introduced by Alex Antonelli and moderated by Professors Scott Edwards and Naomi Pierce, will feature an exciting line-up of scientists who will overview their ongoing research related to fish, palm trees, mountains and eco-evolutionary dynamics, while discussing the broader implications of the importance of biodiversity in their projects and fields. with: Alex Antonelli (Kew Gardens, Gothenburg University), Scott Edwards (OEB/MCZ), Naomi Pierce (OEB/MCZ), Diego Vaz (OEB), Christine Bacon (Gothenburg University), Fernanda Werneck (INPA) & Greg Thorn (AMNH).

Scott V. Edwards is Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University and Curator of Ornithology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. He studies the evolutionary biology of birds and relatives, combining field, museum and genomics approaches to understand the basis of avian diversity, evolution and behavior. His guiding approaches include population genetics, phylogeography and genome evolution. He is the lead PI on a NSF-funded Dimensions of Biodiversity project focusing on the biodiversity of the Dry Diagonal in Brazil.

Naomi E. Pierce is the Hessel Professor of Biology at Harvard University and Curator of Lepidoptera in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. She specializes in the ecology and evolution of species interactions, ranging from symbioses between ants and other organisms, to genetic analyses of biochemical signaling pathways underlying interactions between plants, pathogens and insects. Her lab has used molecular phylogenies and genomic techniques to analyze the evolution of social behavior in bees and ants, pollination and phytophagy in insects, and sexual selection, signaling and perception in moths and butterflies. As part of her work in the MCZ, she has been involved in surveying insect biodiversity and natural history on the savannas of Australia, South America and East Africa and in the forests of Southeast Asia.

Alexandre Antonelli is a Full Professor of the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at University of Gothenburg and Director of Science at the Kew Gardens. He studies the distribution and evolution of species and develops methods to speed up scientific discovery. His major focus is on the tropics, where most species occur, and the threats are most acute. To date, his research has encompassed the study of the formation, extinction, and migration of species, particularly teasing apart the relative roles of abiotic (e.g. climate, landscape) and biotic (e.g. competition, adaptation) drivers of biodiversity change through space and time. He is also engaged in interactions with society and scientists across disciplines, with the main goal of increasing the knowledge, awareness and protection of biological diversity around the world.

Christine Bacon is an Associated Professor of the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at University of Gothenburg. Her main interest is in the use of molecular phylogenies as a tool to study evolutionary and biogeographical patterns in time and space. She integrates phylogenies with ecological and geological information to understand biodiversity and diversification in tropical regions. She primarily works on palms (Arecaceae), but also actively works on Celastraceae plants in Madagascar and South America. Her current variety of projects focus on understanding biotic migrations over the Isthmus of Panama in light of new geological and paleontological evidence, as well as examining speciation mechanisms in the Amazon and in the Brazilian savannas (Cerrado ecoregion).

Fernanda Werneck is an Associate Researcher and Curator at National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA). Her main lines of research include evolution, systematics, biogeography and conservation of Neotropical herpetofauna, with focus on open and forest biomes of South America, and the effects of climate change on biodiversity and implications for conservation. She is also engaged to promote and value the role of Women in Science and of diverse and healthy work environments in the academic research environment.

Gregory Thom is a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow in Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). His integrative research program bridges ecology, evolution, and organismal biology by using genomics and a computationally intense framework to explore the processes driving species diversification in the most biodiverse regions on the planet. His research has been focused on multiple aspects of evolutionary biology, especially on the interface between micro and macroevolutionary processes, elucidating fundamental principles that rule the diversity of life on earth and its interaction with the environment, over space and time. His studies aim on understanding patterns of tropical biodiversity, predicting future responses of organisms to climate change, tracking cryptic diversity, and develop new methodological approaches to analyze population genetics and genomic data.

Diego Vaz is an Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Postdoctoral Fellow in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. He is an aficionado in morphology and anatomy in general, and he used this source of knowledge to unveil systematics and relationships of sharks and toadfishes. His current projects are combining morphological with molecular information to clarify the taxonomy of dwarfgobies, genus Eviota, one of the most diverse genera of marine fishes, and investigating morphological diversity of placoid scales in deep water sharks.

Presented in collaboration with Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) and Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ)