Into the woods: Two alumnae receive funding for research in Ecuador’s forests

White magnolia blossom in a plastic water bottle
White magnolia blossom in a plastic water bottle
Magnolia blossom (photo by Alyssa Kullberg)

Two alumnae of SIT’s Ecuador: Comparative Ecology and Conservation program received grants to continue research on a newly discovered tree species. The species, Magnolia vargasiana — a large, neotropical magnolia — was found in Ecuador’s Eastern Cloud Forest. The new species is the latest in a series of such discoveries by SIT students and coincided with the Ecuador program’s support of an international conference on the impact of female scientists.

A young woman crouches and smiles near her camp supplies
Ruby at her camp

Ruby Tedeschi (fall ’16, University of Denver ’18), helped research two tree species. The first species, a group of 69 trees, was one of the highest density stands discovered in Latin America. The species, she explains, was differentiated by factors like leaf size, shape, and texture and flower size and color. The second species so far includes just one example and resembles the Magnolia vargasiana. The discovery, she says, shows the importance of continued research in the region.

“SIT Ecuador was an experience that not only gave me the opportunity to develop skills in ecological research but also encouraged me to pursue my interest in and passion for conservation of important biological communities,” Ruby says. “This program taught me how to learn about and appreciate the world around me. Miraculously, it made me fall in love with plants even more.”

Ruby received a Partners in Scholarship (PinS) grant from the University of Denver to continue her research.

Young woman smiling and taking a selfie with a magnolia tree
Alyssa taking a selfie with a magnolia tree

Alyssa Kullberg (spring ’17, Colby College ’18) received a Fulbright study/research award to return to Ecuador for 10 months. She’ll continue her own study of rare magnolia species in partnership with conservation organization EcoMinga Foundation.

“When I described to my professors Xavier Silva and Javier Robayo my budding interest in plant biology, they didn’t hesitate to connect me with Lou Jost, the founder of EcoMinga and one of the world’s leading orchid biologists,” Alyssa says. “Before I knew it, I was on the impossibly steep, rain-drenched slopes of the Reserva Río Zuñac, scanning the ground for magnolia leaves and collecting treetop flower samples with the help of two dedicated and fearless forest guards, Fausto and Santiago Recalde. After my month in the field, there were still many unanswered questions that left me curious. I knew I had to find a way to go back, which led me to apply for the Fulbright scholarship. I am thankful to SIT for helping me along this path, and I am so excited for the adventures and discoveries to come!”

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About the Author: Rebecca Cross