The American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) has selected Isaac Lichter Marck as its 2019 Cooley Award recipient. Considered one of the most prestigious early-career recognitions in the plant sciences, the award is named for George R. Cooley, a successful banker who studied plants and worked in conservation in retirement.
Since 1956, the Cooley Award has been given for the best paper in systematics presented at the annual international Botany conference by a botanist in the early stages of their career. Awards are made to members of ASPT who are either graduate students or within one year of their post-doctoral careers for work judged to be substantially complete, synthetic, and original that is presented in a manner that is clear and engaging.
Lichter Marck’s talk, “Historical biogeography of the rock daisies (tribe Perityleae; Asteraceae) in the sky island archipelagos of the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico” was presented at Botany 2019 in Tucson, AZ, U.S.A. and focused on elements of his dissertation work, which he is conducting in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley and the Jepson Herbarium under the advisement of Dr. Bruce Baldwin.
His work focuses on historical biogeography and ecology of the southwestern desert flora, with special attention to sky islands and other insular environments, including edaphic islands. His field, herbarium, and laboratory studies of the rock daisies have shown them to be an ideal system for examining the origins of desert sky-island plant diversity. In his award-winning presentation, he showed evidence that desert sky-island rock daisies in the genus Perityle have descended from subtropical ancestors that appear to have been pre-adapted to dry, exposed environments in otherwise densely vegetated areas in the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico. Diversification in these ancestral subtropical environments predates the development of desert conditions in the American Southwest, which was occupied after the development of basin and range topography, followed by invasion of lower elevation settings after widespread aridification.
One talk attendee noted that Lichter Marck “presented an extraordinary paper that rose above a strong pool of competitors, like a sky island in a desert sea.” The judges were impressed by Isaac’s ability to synthesize a deep and intimate understanding of his study group with impressive data collection and extensive fieldwork to illuminate a big question in plant systematics and evolutionary biology more broadly: How is it that the deserts of northern Mexico and the southwest United States harbor such a diverse flora of seemingly highly specialized and well-adapted plants, despite the fact that these regions are geologically very young?
As a fourth year PhD student, Lichter Marck’s current plans are to continue his studies of desert plant evolution and biogeography. He completed his undergraduate studies in 2011 at Wesleyan University.