University of Southern Mississippi faculty member to be supported by a US Scholar Program Fulbright Prize to research, teach, and complete descriptions of a plant species in south-central Africa that could have important implications environmental issues linked to a better understanding of plant diversity in this region of the continent.
Mac Alford, professor of biological sciences and curator of the USM herbarium, will teach botany, tropical ecology and conservation biology at Mulungushi University in Kabwe, Zambia, and research the species tropical plants of the willow (Salicaceae) and spiderwort (Commelinaceae) families. next year as part of a project to better understand Africa’s plant diversity. As a Fulbright Fellow, Alford will share his knowledge and foster meaningful connections between communities in the United States and Zambia through this program.
Mulungushi University also enlisted Alford’s help to help them develop their botany and conservation biology programs, as well as a garden / arboretum of useful trees.
âI am honored and delighted to get a second Fulbright and to have another chance to continue my research overseas, this time to a place I have never been, where I think I can broaden my knowledge base and share what I’ve learned so far to benefit the research enterprise at Mulungushi University, âAlford said.
Alford joined USM faculty in 2005. His areas of expertise include botany, plant systematics, evolutionary biology, tropical biology, floristics, and environmental science; his research focuses on Mississippi plants and the tropical relatives of willows and poplars. He has published over 40 journal articles, received three National Science Foundation Fellowships, served as Chair of the Faculty Senate 2017-2019, and received the Academic Excellence in Teaching Award in 2017.
The Fulbright Program is the US government’s flagship international educational exchange program; this year marks its 75th anniversary. Named in honor of the late US Senator J. William Fulbright, its goal is to develop connections and understanding between academics and US and international citizens. The professors selected for the program have demonstrated leadership, communication skills and academic experience that make them outstanding ambassadors abroad.
This is Alford’s second Fulbright Scholar Prize, the first being awarded in 2011-2012 to the University of Novi Sad in Serbia, where he conducted research and taught tropical biology and theoretical aspects of botany.
As part of his work in Zambia, Alford will collaborate with Bob Faden at the Smithsonian to complete descriptions of all species in a single plant family. [Commelinaceae] in south-central Africa.
In 1997, Alford interned at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) in Washington, DC, working with Faden describing new related spiderwort species from East Africa.
âThe first new plant species I have ever described, Commelina polhillii, was native to Africa, although I have never been there,â Alford said. âWe did all the work from museum specimens and greenhouse plants from seeds. Dr Faden has been trying to complete a treatment of this plant family (Commelinaceae) for Flora Zambesiaca for years, and I look forward to helping him wrap up this important project.
Alford will also be working on a treatment of the entire Willow and Poplar family (Salicaceae) for the Families and Genera of Vascular Plants series. âDue to my extensive fieldwork in the Americas, Europe and Asia, I have a good command of these genera and species, but I have never been to Africa, so this trip gives me the opportunity to get to know some of these. groups in the field.
“We want to send our best and brightest academics who have the interpersonal skills and cultural understanding to build relationships around the world, and the fact that Alford has been selected for his second Fulbright is recognition that he has these qualities at the highest level, âsaid Chris Winstead, dean of USM College of Arts and Sciences. “He will represent the United States and the University of Southern Mississippi extremely well, and have a host of new experiences to bring back to our Southern Miss students.”
For more information on Alford’s work at USM, visit Mac Alford – Profile Viewer – The University of Southern Mississippi.