Robbie Hart
Robbie collecting Temperature data, Nepal Kanchenjunga Author: Elsa Hart
2021

Robbie Hart

Ethnobotanist

botanical ballads

meet robbie

As a scientist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Robbie Hart directs the William L. Brown Center. This team of researchers is dedicated to the study of useful plants, understanding the relationships between humans, plants, and their environment, conserving plant species, and preserving traditional knowledge for the benefit of future generations. Hart’s research focuses on high-elevation plant ecology and ethnobotany. He works with Nepali, Bhutanese, and Chinese colleagues to answer the question of how plants are responding to climate change.

botanical ballads
Nominated by: K David Harrison FN'15
Class of 2021 Location Missouri, USA
Robbie climbing to Nangpo La field site, Nepal Kanchenjunga
Robbie climbing to Nangpo La field site, Nepal Kanchenjunga Author: Elsa Hart

Growing up on the Olympic Peninsula, where a long day’s hike can begin at tide pools, pass through moss-draped temperate forests, and end in mile-high alpine meadows, the biological richness of mountain regions was easy to internalize. It inspired my training as an ecologist. In the belief that people must be included to build comprehensive understanding and to affect meaningful conservation, I’ve worked within both social science and natural science disciplines.

Surveying plot - Yegya, James, Robbie, Nepal Kanchenjunga
Surveying plot - Yegya, James, Robbie, Nepal Kanchenjunga Author: Elsa Hart

“There’s an undeniable appeal to my work, which requires me to hike up a slope, to see the landscape change as I gain elevation, and to break through the treeline to see the wide expanse of the alpine. It’s a feeling that reminds me of home no matter where in the world I am.”

- Robbie Hart
Robbie collecting ecological data, China DaXueShan
Robbie collecting ecological data, China DaXueShan Author: Fang Zhendong

Through our ongoing projects, my colleagues and I seek to understand a different dimension of climate-induced change and how plant ranges shift vertically in elevation, up and down the mountain. I hope that data I collect will have a positive effect on the mountain people and the environments where I work. There’s an undeniable appeal to my work, which requires me to hike up a slope, to see the landscape change as I gain elevation, and to break through the treeline to see the wide expanse of the alpine. It’s a feeling that reminds me of home no matter where in the world I am.

Increasingly I have seen how institutions, colleagues, and mentors shape the science I do. Two important mentors, both avid explorers, have especially influenced me. David Harrison was the first to insist that I start international fieldwork if I wanted to be doing important, impactful science. Another is Jan Salick, a pioneer in ecological ethnobotany. Her work combines the rigorous experimental design, painstaking data collection, and quantitative tests of ecology with the understanding that human agency and cultures are essential components of the natural world. She also introduced me to the potential of natural history collections as novel sources of information for understanding.

never stop exploring

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