Dr. James Lendemer is an Assistant Curator at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) and is the newest faculty member of the Plant Sciences program at CUNY. Dr. Lendemer has devoted his professional research career to studying lichens, which are symbiotic associations between fungi and algae. At the age of thirteen, James began studying fossils as a volunteer at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. His exploration of fossils led him to paleobotany, which eventually led to a discovery that he credits with sparking his passion for lichens. This discovery involved two lichen specimens that he found at the Academy. These specimens looked identical yet were labeled as different species. James was able to demonstrate these were in fact of the same species. If he were able to make such a discovery about lichens as a high school student, he reminisces, how much more was there still left to discover?
As an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, James collaborated with Drs. Bill Buck & Dick Harris, two lichen experts at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). James met them at conferences and workshops and exchanged lichen specimens with them through the mail. The presence of these two researchers who were leaders in the field of North American lichenology made the PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center and the NYBG a natural choice for James. Two great strengths of this PhD program, Dr. Lendemer reflects, were the diversity of research interests and the wealth of resources. For example, he recalls spending many hours working with a scanning electron microscope in a basement room at Lehman College. Dr. Lendemer was able to use preliminary data from such work to apply for funding, which in turn gave him the resources to gather more data and apply for more funding. This snowball effect has created opportunities—such as a National Science Foundation grant that supported his post-doc—to advance his career. Dr. Lendemer credits his success in part to the independence that he developed while in the PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Together with collaborators from the University of Colorado, Dr. Lendemer recently received a Dimensions of Biodiversity grant from the National Science Foundation to study the diversity of lichens in in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, a global biodiversity hotspot. Dr. Lendemer explains that while most of the attention in biodiversity research and conservation is given to larger plants and animals, smaller organisms such as fungi, bacteria, and insects are actually more diverse and provide most of the ecosystem services, yet they are generally neglected. Through this latest project, he and his colleagues hope to unravel how the diversity of these smaller organisms relates to total biodiversity and to understand the factors that limit the distribution of these organisms. With a passion for sound scientific research and well over 100 peer-reviewed publications already in his young career, Dr. Lendemer is a great addition to the Plant Sciences program at CUNY.
Text by Taylan Morcol and Robin Sleith
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