A winning poster about mangroves at ATBC 2017

Last month, we were pleased to congratulate Diana de la Cruz, winner of the New Phytologist poster prize at the 54th Annual Meeting of the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation. I caught up with Diana after the meeting, to find out more about her winning poster.

Please tell me about yourself and your career to date
I’m a biologist, graduated with Honours from UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), where I began to work with wood anatomy. For my Masters I started at CICY (Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán), where I first met the awesome world of the mangroves. I continued working with wood anatomy and began to work with physiology in the hydraulic architecture of Rhizophora mangle. I am currently a PhD student in CICY, where I continue working with anatomy and physiology of R. mangle, but now I also work with its genetics and ecology. I think the best way to answer a question is to have different points of view through multidisciplinary studies that allow us get a more complete answer. So my career has taken me a step deeper each time and allowed me to explore new disciplines.

What inspired your interest in plant science?
I fell in love of plants when I was 15, when I went to Lancandona forest – the huge trees inspired me to find out more about them.

Please can you describe the research behind your poster?
Mangroves are part of a very heterogeneous environment that leads to different morphologic types of mangrove forest, with particular anatomic and physiologic traits. However this variability has never been considered as a potential source of genetic variability. We considered this morphologic variability as a source of genetic variability for the first time. We found that it has a very important impact on the genetic structure of mangrove forest, due to the effect of the heterogeneous environment on the mating system, dispersion and establishment of mangroves. This is also the first time the genetic variability of R. mangle was studied in the Yucatan Peninsula, which contains more than half of the mangrove forest in Mexico.

Image: Diana's winning poster: Morphological and genetic variability of Rhizophora mangle L. in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Diana’s winning poster: Morphological and genetic variability of Rhizophora mangle L. in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

What qualities make for an effective poster?
The first thing we have to think when we create a poster is to grab the attention of the audience, because this is the only way we can tell our story to those who don’t work in our field. People have many things on their mind, and only something exceptional will grab their attention in a place with so many things to see. So I consider it necessary to be original and take risks in doing something differently. The next step is to tell a great story – everybody loves stories. It is also very important to recognise the need to learn about other disciplines, like graphic design, to communicate science. I don’t really know a lot about graphic design but I would like to learn a little about it to be a more effective science communicator. I believe that if we don’t communicate our work to our peers and to society then we are not being very effective scientists.

How do you think your research benefits society?
Mangroves are one of the most important ecosystems, they give many indispensable ecosystem services to society, but they are constantly threatened. The genetics of mangroves is a very novel area and very important due its implications on the capacity of this ecosystem to respond to natural or anthropogenic impacts. Generating knowledge about this ecosystem is important for better management decisions, conservation and restoration.

Image: ATBC 2017 New Phytologist poster prize winner, Diana de la Cruz
ATBC 2017 New Phytologist poster prize winner, Diana de la Cruz

Who do you see as your role model?
My grandma is my best example of life, she and my mother taught me that there are no barriers, and to go for my dreams. They encouraged me to work very hard to reach my objectives, they taught me to never say “I can’t”.

Is there any advice you would give to other early career researchers?
I was afraid to do something different, but I did it and is one of the best things I have ever done. So, take risks! Being afraid is normal but not doing something out of fear, never.

Aside from science, what other passions do you have?
I love to see scary movies, read classics, draw and paint. When I am not working I love to be in my house with my family; my son and my husband. Also I love animals: I have cats, dogs and chickens.

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Mike Whitfield
Development Coordinator
New Phytologist