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Pollen Whisperer

February 18, 2013

Pollen Whisperer

As one of only a few modern pollen experts in Latin America, Enrique Moreno's time and talent are in great demand

As one of only a few modern pollen experts in Latin America, Enrique Moreno's time and talent are in great demand. With staff scientists Dave Roubik, Carlos Jaramillo and Dolores Piperno, this biological technician at STRI's Center for Tropical Paleoecology and Archaeology discovers which flowers bees pollinate, what grew in the first tropical forests and how corn was domesticated—pouring over microscope slides dotted with tiny pollen grains.

But his own 18-year pollen collection comprises the longest aerial pollen record available for the tropical Americas. Nearly 20 years ago, Enrique helped PhD candidate Mark Bush install pollen traps in the forest-dynamics plot on Barro Colorado Island. When Mark left, Enrique continued and installed additional traps on the BCI tower and the Sherman canopy crane. “I wanted to know how El Niño droughts and La Niña rains (ENSO) affect tree reproduction.”

Samples piled up in coldstorage until Surangi Punyasena, from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne with Dave and Enrique's Pollen and Spores of BCI in hand, devised a computerized pollen counting system. Soon the relationship between climate and tropical tree reproduction will be revealed.

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