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ETSU professor to study in Ecuador

Staff Reports • Mar 20, 2012 at 11:21 PM

Dr. Tim McDowell of East Tennessee State University has received a Fulbright Scholar award for a research and teaching project in Ecuador. McDowell is an associate professor in the department of biological sciences and the curator of the university’s John C. Warden Herbarium.

McDowell will conduct a botanical inventory of the flora in the natural forest of San José de las Palmas, a small protected area in the province of Bolivar, Ecuador. His project is a collaboration with the Bolivar State University, or Universidad Estatal de Bolivar in Guaranda, the capitol of Bolivar province and a Sister City partner to Johnson City since 1965.

Working with the local community and with botanists and students at UEB, McDowell will collect specimens and survey plant diversity in this mountainous, cloud forest area. Ecuador is a country of exceptional biological diversity, including more than 20,000 recorded species of vascular plants, a number equal to the species count for the continental United States and Canada combined.

Two trips to Ecuador are planned, one in the June-November dry season and one in the December-May wet season. Plant collections will be dried and specimens prepared at the UEB in Guaranda. Identifications will be continued at the National Herbarium in Quito. Collections will be supplemented with digital photos and georeference data for the location where each plant was found.

In addition to his research, McDowell will teach two seminars at the UEB’s Escuela de Agropecuaria. He will also establish a working herbarium facility — a collection of dried pressed plant specimens for scientific study — at the school’s College of Agronomy.

McDowell is well prepared for his project. For the past three summers, he has led ETSU students on a month-long collaborative course with students from UEB, as the bilingual group visits botanical sites from mangroves to alpine paramo and from lowland rain forest to montane cloud forest.

The ETSU study abroad class arose from the bond between long-time sister cities Johnson City and Guaranda, and has been supported each year by the Honors College and the Office of International Programs. These trips include two ETSU summer school study abroad courses, “Tropical Botany,” which McDowell teaches, and “Spanish Language and Latin American Culture,” taught by Dr. J. Mwinyelle of the ETSU Department of Literature and Language.

Employed at ETSU since 1998, McDowell’s career also includes a year and a half with the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History as a field botanist studying biological diversity in Guyana. He has also collected extensively in Costa Rica and the Caribbean region.

McDowell earned a bachelor’s degree in botany at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. in botany at Duke University, Durham, N.C.

The Fulbright Scholar Program is the premier international educational exchange sponsored by the U.S. government. Established in 1946, the program strives to “increase mutual understanding between people of the U.S. and the people of other countries” and sends American scholars and professionals to 125 countries.

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