Woodstock man’s rainforest research published
A Woodstock man earned distinction as lead author on a groundbreaking scientific research article published in the February edition of the internationally renowned Cambridge Journals The Lichenologist.
Garret Sweetwood graduated from Roosevelt University with a biology major. He received top billing among four co-authors who studied spores growing on rainforest lichens. The research provides an understanding for the first time of the evolution and ecology of these organisms, which is vital information that may be useful for the health and conservation of the world’s dwindling rainforests.
Sweetwood took part in the university’s Museum Studies: Biology 380 class. The class paired Sweetwood with Robert Lücking, adjunct curator and collections manager in the botany department at the Field Museum.
“The class was unforgettable. It was a really great experience,” Sweetwood said. “You’re constantly talking to new people. These are people who really dedicate their lives to this work.”
Using spore samples from Costa Rica and Brazil, Sweetwood prepared specimens and took photographs at various stages of development.
“I’d prepare the slides, look for spores from the lichens and edit the pictures,” he said. “It sounds simple, but it did take a while.”
Lücking said the research is groundbreaking in the field.
“We actually wanted to look at tropical lichens and how they get around and disperse,” Lücking said. “[Before scientists thought] it was only by rain and wind, but we found animals play a role.”
The research presents revolutionary findings on how spores in tropical lichens develop. The article states that tropical lichens originating from Florida, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia and Brazil evolved from a common ancestor. Rain water basically washes spores toward the ground and tiny insects such as ants mistake the spores for food and carry them away.
Since graduating, Sweetwood, 26, has been hired as a microbial lab technician for Sage Products, a medical supply company in Cary. Sweetwater is a 2004 graduate of Johnsburg High School.