A sandwich student's view of Kew's Herbarium
The Kew student sandwich course
Over the last year I have been lucky enough to be working at Kew on the Student Sandwich scheme (so called as it’s normally ‘sandwiched’ between second and third year of your undergraduate degree!). This placement allows students to take a year out from university and get experience in a research environment. At Kew, students can work in the Jodrell laboratory, the Herbarium or at the Seedbank at Wakehurst. I was based in the Herbarium and was involved in the eMonocot project.
The eMonocot project
This project aims to create a web-based resource of all monocot plants, allowing researchers to identify, classify and explore monocotyledons from across the world.
During my year at Kew, one of my routine jobs was to gather content for eMonocot. This included taxon descriptions, images and geographical data. After gathering this content I then had to upload it to a Scratchpad. Scratchpads are online working platforms which allow researchers to manage, share and publish their taxonomic research online. (Find out more on the Scratchpad website.) After the eMonocot team has populated a Scratchpad with content, the Scratchpad is harvested to the eMonocot portal, creating a unified interface which can be accessed and used by all communities.
The Carex key
As well as helping with day-to-day data collection for eMonocot, I also had two independent projects to work on. My first project involved creating an identification key to European species of Carex, which is a type of sedge (Cyperaceae). For this project I collaborated with a researcher from North America. To create the key I collected data on several morphological characters (e.g length of leaf blade, width of nutlet) from literature and from over 300 herbarium specimens of Carex. Then, with the help of LUCID, I was able to transform this raw data into a working identification key, which was then uploaded to the eMonocot site. Currently there are over 15 identification keys on the eMonocot portal, and one of the great things about putting them online is that they are now accessible to everyone - no matter where they're from or who they are. So go and check them out now for yourself!
Screenshot of the Carex key in the eMonocot portal
Describing a new species
For my second project, I was given the opportunity to describe a new species of Cyperus (another type of Sedge) from Tropical East Africa. This project was particularly exciting for me as, after doing the initial research and analysis on a group of specimens, I was able to write up my findings and submit a paper to Kew Bulletin (Kew’s international peer-reviewed journal for the taxonomy, systematics and conservation of vascular plants and fungi). This type of opportunity isn’t normally offered to undergraduates at university, so it was a great experience to actually write a scientific paper and go through the review process myself.
One of the specimens I studied turned out to be a new species. I named it Cyperus beentjei Gardner & Weber in honour of Henk Beentje who was one of the final editors for the Flora of Tropical East Africa and contributed to the Cyperus account.
Dried specimen of Cyperus beentjei Gardner & Weber
Thanks to Kew
Overall my year at Kew has been fantastic. In particular I’d like to thank Odile Weber, Dave Simpson and the eMonocot team for making the year so enjoyable.
The eMonocot team and workshop participants at a recent training event.
If any students are reading I would definitely encourage you to apply for Kew's Student Sandwich Scheme - it’s a year you won’t forget!