Skip to main content

Adriana represents CALS Cornell at #SACNAS2019

SACNAS Cornell Chapter and recruiter group photo

Adriana on day 1 of the conference. All attendees received a welcome lei.


I attended my first SACNAS Conference from Oct 31-Nov 2 in Honolulu, Hawaii. SACNAS is an inclusive organization that promotes and supports the success of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in science. Our very own Dr. Eloy Rodriguez, professor Emeritus in Plant Biology at Cornell, was a founding member of SACNAS. I was a member of my local chapter as an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara, but I didn’t get the opportunity to attend the national conference until this year. With over 5,000 attendees, I was overwhelmed by the level of community and engagement our SACNAS membership has to offer.

I was invited to present a poster on one of my dissertation projects, testing the ring species hypothesis on the hypervariable Calochortus venustus. I received feedback on my future directions and made connections with soil scientists. I even got to present to some of my Yale Ciencias Academy fellows!

Adriana presents her poster to YCA fellows

I was most excited about recruiting prospective graduate students for CALS Cornell and getting undergrads excited about biodiversity and organismal biology. Passing on my knowledge of navigating academia as an URM – a first gen immigrant, a POC, a woman, a first gen college grad, a low-income student – is one of the most fulfilling experiences I have accomplished in my career. What’s more exciting is that I was also able to help students who were in my field, plant biology and evolutionary biology, and share my experience specifically as a graduate student at Cornell.

Cornell booth with informational brochures and free swag

2020 Conference advertisement






I look forward to SACNAS 2020 in Long Beach, CA! If you are a student interested in attending future SACNAS conferences, check their website for travel scholarship opportunities in the early spring.

Adriana Attends Conservation Genomics Workshop through UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science

Adriana, second year PhD student, is largely interested in applying genomic tools to conservation research. She has focused her research on a California endemic lily, Calochortus venustus, and studies floral diversification, evolutionary history, and climatic niches in the species. When the opportunity arose to attend a conservation genomics workshop through the UCLA/ La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science, she knew she had to attend. Dr. Brad Shaffer who runs the workshop is Director of La Kretz, and he arranged for attendees to stay at The Calamigos Ranch which neighbors the La Kretz Field Station that burned down in the Woolsey Fire in 2018. The workshop was composed of lectures, computational exercises, discussions, and interviews with land managers and scientists who focus their research on conserving biodiversity. Some of the main topics were RAD-Seq, population genetics, WGS, RNA-Seq, visualization tools, and eDNA.

Adriana is working on inferring population structure and evolutionary history of Calochortus venustus through RAD-Sequencing. Dr. Victoria Sork reviewed some of the pros and cons of using tools like RAD-Seq for landscape genomics research. While RAD-Seq is the right tool for answering the questions Adriana is looking to answer, Victoria described how projects may be optimized by sampling just a few individuals in each population while increasing the total number of populations in the study.

Once the SNP data is obtained from RAD-Seq, analyses of population dynamics can begin. Dr. Gideon Bradburd reviews conStruct: a statistical tool for modeling continuous and discrete population genetic structure. His model addresses the issue of dealing with discrete clusters vs. continuous clines. Adriana is looking forward to comparing the results of conStruct with those of Structure in Calochortus venustus.

Conservation biologists can attain the goal of preserving biodiversity through various career positions. Many doctoral students realize that professorships are limited and difficult to come by. One alternative is to work as a scientist for a park or NGO. The workshop allowed time to explore these career paths by having an open forum discussion with scientists of The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, and the Santa Monica Recreational Park.

Adriana recommends the workshop for first and second year graduate students who aim to leverage genomic tools for preserving biodiversity. Students from all over the U.S. and even Norway attended the workshop, and are hopeful ing building a diverse and collaborative cohort of scientists.


Specht lab prepares for Judy’s Day Family Learning Festival

As part of our education and outreach initiatives, the Specht lab will participate in a one day family-friendly event organized and hosted by the Cornell Botanical Garden called Judy’s Day: Family Learning Festival. The theme of this year’s event is “Plants Have Families, too!” which will showcase the relationships between plant families. Yay, phylogenetics!

Chelsea will introduce the highly diverse monocots, while Jacob will introduce the numerous eudicots. Chelsea’s display is a monocot phylogeny showing some of the common features of various monocot lineages. Can you tell an agave apart from an aloe? Some of the agricultural uses of eudicot plants will be covered by Jacob, as well as how plant-pollinator interactions lead to biodiversification. Here they are preparing demonstrative materials for each of their booths.

Jesus and Adriana will present on lilies and their allies. They will have an arts and crafts section at their booth so stop by and make a lily! To the left, Adriana is holding an example of a lily that Jesus made with dyed corn husks. She’s pictured next to the vibrant lilies that will be on exhibit for smelling and dissecting!

Clarice’s booth is about arums, featuring a make-a-leaf station (bottom middle) and plenty of live plants from the LHB Conservatory and Botanic Garden. They’re working with Craig Cramer from SIPS to showcase the range of the arum family, from tiny duckweed all the way up to Titan arum! Though the Titan arum at the booth will not be flowering (a relief for certain booth workers who will be standing next to it for 4 hours!) there will be an interactive display (bottom right) highlighting the unusual inflorescence of this (in)famous plant.


We hope to see you there! For more info, please visit the Botanic Gardens page here.

Lab Meeting Schedule

Team Presenting
A-Team Carrie Tribble, Eugenio Valderrama, Samuel Vanden Abeele, María Pinilla-Vargas
Adaptation Adriana Hernandez, Jacob Landis, Shayla Salzman, Rosemary Glos, Suzy Strickler
Evo-Devo Jesús Martinez-Gómez, Clarice Guan, Heather Phillips, Joyce Chery


Pages: 1 2

SUMMERizing recent events

The second year of my graduate school journey came like a flash. As I start to get into the grind of teaching, taking classes, and jumping into lab work, I also want to take time to reflect on my eventful summer. I had the chance to catch up with friends and mentors and collect Calochortus tissue samples in California. I also made new friends and learned new tools for studying morphology and comparative phylogenetics in Boston and Mexico City, respectively. Here are some highlights:

My trip to California was funded by SIPS’ own Schmittau-Novak grant, which allowed my to travel to CA to collect Calochortus venustus petal tissue for RNA-seq and differential gene expression analysis of two color morphs: brilliant red and stark white. My collections started in Paso Robles, where I found a beautifully polymorphic population of pastel pinks and purples on the side of a road surrounded by vineyards. I then made my way up to Mt. Diablo to collect among hundreds of white mariposa lilies. I remember the 95 degree heat at 2300 ft. elevation almost as well as the tasty matcha tea I enjoyed with the Specht Lab at the UC Berkeley campus. By far, the most striking populations I came across were those that a fellow Calochorto-phile has been tracking for decades. She drove me to some of her hidden treasures, where we found hundreds of reds, whites,and everything in between- including “candy-cane striped” individuals!  This was surprising given the dry years CA has been experiencing so I consider myself lucky to have found the support to hunt down and collect enough samples for at least a year’s worth of work.

The adventures that followed were intensive short-courses on morphology and comparative phylogenetics, both subjects I had not formally studied. I was awarded to take a short summer course on plant morphology at the Harvard Arnold Arboretum in Boston, with Peter Endress, Pam Diggle, Cyndy Jones, and Ned Friedman. I would recommend this hands-on course to anyone who wants a jumpstart in morphology- anyone interested in plant development needs a foundation in morphology and the best way to learn it is to start dissecting and looking under the scope. I also made friends with a fellow geophyte lover, Cody Coyotee Howard from U of Florida. Of course, we couldn’t stop obsessing over the Amorphophallus titanum corms. One of the biggest highlights was chatting with Dr. Peter Endress who was kind enough to provide some insight into Calochortus petal color variation- he thinks it’s a cool plant too!

I had a one night rest stop at LAX before flying to my hometown, Mexico City, for another short course. The Phylogenetic Tools in R course was held at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and was led by Liam Revell, Luke Harmon, Michael Alfaro, and Alejandro Gonzalez-Voyer. The course focused on the computational tools used to detect and visualize macroevolutionary patterns. I also made friends with awesome PhD students who are finishing up their degrees at UNAM, Itzi Fragoso and Veronica Zepeda (thank you for showing me the best food spots!), and Elisa Barreto from Brazil. This was the last year this NSF funded course was offered, but Liam’s Phytools website and GitHub page is updated regularly and is super useful. Ancestral state reconstruction and modeling character evolution doesn’t seem such a daunting task – but I’ll likely often reference my notes.

Now, back to sorting through hundreds of Calochortus pictures…

Skip to toolbar