Rhododendron Research Network

Newsletter - February 12, 2021
In this issue:

It's Our First Event!

Virtual Connections Series 2021

Building Community Partnerships
The Rhododendron Research Network is proud to present the first installment of the Virtual Connections Series. This conference series seeks to bring people together from all over the globe, and from all walks of life in “Building Community Partnerships” in Rhododendron research.

Whether you are a scientific professional, a community-based researcher, or a gardener who loves to learn all you can about Rhododendron, we hope this conference will expand your network and your imagination.
Meetings will be offered in two sessions to accommodate live attendance in key regions around the globe. Both sessions will include the same content. Recordings of the sessions will also be permanently available on the R-RN YouTube Channel following the event.

Content will be geared toward a general audience, with opportunities for subject-specific breakout groups to accommodate discussion of more technical topics.


Spring Meeting - Energizing Collaborative Working Groups
March 25-26, 2021
This meeting will focus on tools that the R-RN has developed to support collaborative working groups, including both Hands-on Workshops and Roundtable Q&A where we will be seeking participant feedback. The meeting will wrap up with a Plenary Lecture Featuring Dr. Alan Elliott, Biodiversity Conservation Network Manager for the World Flora Online and the Global Conservation Consortium for Rhododendron at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The talk will be followed by a Roundtable Q&A on our theme of “Energizing Collaborative Working Groups”.
  • Session 1: Thursday, March 25, 11PM-2AM Greenwich Mean Time
  • Session 2: Friday, March 26, 2PM-5PM Greenwich Mean Time
Registration for this Spring 2021 Meeting requires you to be signed up as a "Research Network Participant" on the Rhododendron Research Network Website.

Click HERE to sign up for the Rhododendron Research Network.

Click HERE for more information or to register for the Spring meeting.

Summer Meeting – Building International Relationships
August 19-20, 2021
This meeting will focus on networking with Rhododendron scientists from around the globe, including virtual lab tours, short 15-minute research talks, and Roundtable Q&A where we will discuss potential for international funding initiatives. The meeting will wrap up with a Plenary Lecture (speaker TBA) and Roundtable Q&A that speak to our theme of “Building International Relationships”.

Registration coming soon, click HERE for details and updates.

Fall Meeting – Empowering Community Participation
November 4-5, 2021
This meeting will focus on sharing the latest research findings and empowering community-based science projects, including virtual plant collections tours, short 15-minute talks giving an overview of research areas in Rhododendron, and Roundtable Q&A where we will discuss the future of R-RN community-based research initiatives. The meeting will wrap up with a Plenary Lecture (speaker TBA) and Roundtable Q&A that speak to our theme of “Empowering Community Participation”.

Registration coming soon, click HERE for details and updates.
Online Rhododendron genomic tools now available
Ningyawen Liu and Chengjun Zhang at the Kunming Institute of Botany, China, developed a new website that will be invaluable to Rhododendron researchers: Rhododendron Plant Genome Database (RPGD).

They created user-friendly interfaces for searching published nuclear genomes (R. delavayi, R. simsii, R. williamsianum), chloroplast genomes (R. delavayi, R. pulchrum), and transcriptomes (R. delavayi).

Some of the features available include:
  • Search each genome for similar DNA sequences to a query sequence with the BLAST tool
  • Easily find genes that have been identified in each genome under the Browse menu
  • Obtain gene function, location, DNA sequence, and expression levels
  • Search for simple sequence repeats (SSRs), which are useful for population genetics and genetic mapping
  • Use the Orthology Gene tool to find similar genes (orthologous groups) across the kiwifruit (Actinidia), arabidopsis, tea (Camellia), and rhododendron genomes
  • Use the Genome Synteny Browser tool to compare two rhododendron genomes and find similar blocks of genes that are likely inherited from a common ancestor

Liu and Zhang plan on adding more Rhododendron genomes to RPGD as they become available, which will provide a comprehensive, centralized genomic database for Rhododendron researchers. 

Click HERE to learn more.

Research Funding

American Rhododendron Society Due March 1

The Research Committee of the Research Foundation of the American Rhododendron Society invites proposals, due March 1, 2021.

The Committee accepts proposals for both basic and applied studies, with particular interest in projects that comport value for Rhododendron growers, including but not limited to: genetics, physiology, ecology, conservation, breeding, propagation, and systematics.

Funding for research is provided by the ARS Research Foundation. Since 1976 over 150 awards have been made, representing a substantial contribution to the body of knowledge on Rhododendron

Click HERE to learn more about this funding program and access the submission forms. 

Also, please consider supporting our ongoing commitment to research:
Become an ARS member or Make a donation

Networking and Communication

We want to promote your successes and opportunities
Recent research shows that Sharing Research on Twitter May Lead to Higher Citations, but not everyone wants to deal with the headache of social media.

Fortunately, the R-RN is offering a solution, as a primary goal of our network is to promote Rhododendron research findings and opportunities to the scientific community and to the public. Now you can leverage the R-RN social media accounts to do this work, so you don't have to!

Not only are we are building a network of scientists and community members on social media who want to hear about your research, this has increased the number of people who contact our network asking how they can get involved in Rhododendron research. But we need your help finding all of the great Rhododendron opportunities out there. 

We are seeking to promote your publications, job openings, grant opportunities and any news related to Rhododendron on our social media platforms and in this newsletter.
Submit your news items by June 15 to be included in the July 2021 newsletter.

Publication Highlight

Genetic diversity of Rhododendron brachycarpum
A recent article by Polezhaeva et al. provides a unique view of genetic diversity across the geographic range of Rhododendron brachycarpum.

They found high variation in microsatellite markers for populations located in Korea and Japan, although these populations do appear to be genetically distinct from one another.

They also found evidence that two isolated Russian populations resulted from two distinct migration events, one from Japan and one originating in mainland Asia.

Polezhaeva, M.A., Marchuk, E.A., Modorov, M.V. et al. Insights into the genetic diversity and population structure of Rhododendron brachycarpum (Ericaceae) in East Asia as characterized by SSR markers. Plant Syst Evol 307, 9 (2021).

Click HERE to read the full article.

R-RN Participant Spotlight

Dr. Gulzar Khan
This new feature will spotlight the research programs of R-RN participants, with a goal to build a thriving collaborative network of Rhododendron Scientists. Our first Spotlight features Dr. Gluzar Khan.

Dr. Khan's main research interests are to access the forces responsible for both the micro/macro-evolutionary levels, define the “Designatable Unit” or DU with evidences within the endangered/threatened species, and to develop first-draft management guidelines for populations/species facing rapid climate changes. Dr. Khan brings critical population genomics, landscape genomics and species distribution modeling approaches to his projects, to achieve a variety of objectives. We spoke to Dr. Khan about his research background, and his interest in expanding his collaborative projects in Rhododendron.

Dr. Khan's interest in Rhododendron is grounded in his previous work in Brazil on deeply assessing hybridization & introgression, and their effects on the conservation in some microendemic species of genus Melocactus (Cactaceae). In addition, Dr. Khan was involved in assessment of genetic erosion in Pilosocereus aureispinus, an endangered species consisting of only three populations, and in investigating taxonomic challenges posed by naturally fragmented system in P. jauruensis. He also contributed to review IBD (isolation by distance) and steps to be considered in a conservation guidelines setting. Similarly, during his doctorate (2011 to 2015), Dr. Khan contributed towards the questions on how the uplifting and climatic changes at Qignhai Tibetan Plateau shaped genetic diversity since last 2 million years.

Now, Dr. Khan is working in IBU (Institute of Biology and Environmental Sciences), university of Oldenburg, Germany. This effort is focused on preparing a proposal to work on the cradle vs museum hypothesis of montane biodiversity, and one publication is already in the second round of review in American Journal of Botany available on bioarxiv, entitled, “Incongruent phylogenies and its implications for the study of diversification, taxonomy and genome size evolution of Rhododendron (Ericaceae)”. In this very work, Dr. Khan and team has investigated the infrageneric phylogeny of Rhododendron, providing the broad coverage of representative species (22%) of all Rhododendron subgenera, sections, and most subsections to resolve to highlight areas of incongruence, finding merit in the recognition of the five major clades at the subgeneric level in the genus, but given the amount of incongruence a number of species cannot be confidently assigned to one of these five clades. They suggested that, genome-wide data will be necessary to assess whether these currently unassignable species are assignable to one of the five major clades or whether they are inter-subgeneric hybrids. Additionally, he is involved to find the genomic traces of the role of geographical vs ecological vs climatic challenges in shaping the gene-pool of genus Veronica at their Eastern European and western Asian distribution. Here also, Dr. Khan gained an interest in applying these skills further to the interesting biodiversity and evolutionary biology questions that can be addressed in Rhododendron.

The Rhododendron study system has immense potential to provide unique insight into the evolutionary processes that drive biodiversity, and Dr. Khan's work represents an exciting frontier in this respect. Dr. Khan is looking forward to identifying additional collaborators and projects in Rhododendron; click HERE to learn more about Dr. Khan's research program. 


American Rhododendron Society

Next Generation Program

“Colleagues are a wonderful thing – but mentors, that’s where the real work gets done.” — Junot Diaz

Rhododendron is one of the richest study systems in the world, ranging from horticulture and breeding, to conservation and restoration, to ecology and evolution, to medicinal chemistry and ethnobotany. In addition, Rhododendron’s popularity as ornamental and medicinal plants dates back over 500 years, highlighting their enormous potential to connect seemingly-distant problems like conservation and medicine, or gardening and climate change, to solve the big mysteries of how biodiversity arises, why it matters to humans, and how to preserve it.

For over 50 years, The American Rhododendron Society has served as a resource and a repository of Rhododendron expertise, with members eager to pass on their knowledge and support projects that preserve and promote the beauty and value of Rhododendron for the future.

So what's the problem? Quite simply, we need more people working on Rhododendron, there are just not enough hours in the day to address the amazing potential of Rhododendron as a study system. In addition, as people in the modern world have become more siloed into distinct professions, connections across generations and between scientists and the public need purposeful tending.  Lastly, conservation efforts deserve more attention, as native populations of Rhododendron are facing increasing threats from human development and climate change. 

The ARS-NextGen program is addressing these problems head-on, developing initiatives to involve the next generation in Rhododendron research and horticulture, creating educational content and opportunities that address a growing interest in biodiversity conservation, and fostering a multigenerational community of Rhododendron hobbyists and professionals to mentor the next generation of Rhododendron experts. Here again, we need more hands, and meeting this challenge is going to take creative solutions.

Now, ARS-NextGen is seeking scientists and teaching professionals interested to collaborate on developing activities such as:

  • Including Rhododendron experts in your classroom as guest speakers or workshop presenters
  • Establishing lesson plans centered around different dimensions of Rhododendron
  • Engaging students in plant-centered community development projects
  • Mentoring students in independent study projects on Rhododendron
  • Advancing community-based research and conservation projects

Click HERE to learn more and get involved.

Advance & inspire your research and collaborations on Rhododendron
Click Here to learn more about Rhododendron Research Network
Click Here to learn more about the American Rhododendron Society

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