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Timothy J. Motley, associate curator of the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics Studies at The New York Botanical Garden, has accepted the new position of J. Robert Stiffler Distinguished Professorship in Botany and Horticulture at Old Dominion University and the Norfolk Botanical Garden (NBG).

The joint appointment is the first under a partnership between the university and the Norfolk garden. Motley is to be introduced at a private reception at Norfolk Botanical Garden on March 20 and will assume his new duties in August.

Stiffler is the long-time gardening columnist of The Virginian-Pilot, a collaborator with horticulturists at the NBG and the author of "Gardening in Southeastern Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina." The professorship was made possible by a $1 million anonymous gift.

Motley, 40, noted that both he and Stiffler grew up in the Midwest and became interested in plants and gardening at early ages. And although Motley has a research focus centered in Pacific islands, he said that the plant group he is studying has a close relationship to the bluets, a flowering herb found on the East Coast.

The new professor is an expert in molecular systematics, in which he uses molecular techniques-for example, in DNA analysis-to learn the sort of evolutionary relationship that would tie East Coast bluets to plants on a Pacific island.

He also has won national praise for a recently published book that he and two colleagues edited and to which they contributed several chapters. The book, "Darwin's Harvest: New Approaches to the Origins, Evolution, and Conservation of Crops" (Columbia University Press), addresses concerns about the loss of crop-plant diversity throughout the world. It includes chapters written by evolutionary biologists, geneticists, agronomists, molecular biologists and anthropologists.

Motley also has authored 32 articles for refereed journals and delivered 18 invited lectures in the United States and abroad.

"I became interested in the Stiffler professorship because it offered unique opportunities to a young researcher already established in the scientific community," he said. The molecular studies program at The New York Botanical Garden was just getting started when Motley took a job there in 1997. "When I saw this position in Norfolk, I once again saw a chance to build a molecular plant research program with the NBG and Old Dominion."

Motley, who grew up on a farm in central Illinois, earned bachelor's and master's degrees in botany at Eastern Illinois University. For his doctoral work, he moved to the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and his core research has been Pacific-based ever since. "I am intrigued by how these remote islands became populated by plants and animals, and what the relationships are between plants that occur on separate islands or archipelagos," he said.

"Bob Stiffler introduced himself to me many years ago to express a desire for more interaction between the university and NBG," said Lytton Musselman, Mary Payne Hogan professor of botany and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at ODU. "Although logical, no one had previously pursued this idea.
"When Bob announced his retirement as the icon of garden writers in the area, I thought it would be a good time to establish a position that would link the two institutions," Musselman added. "The result is the J. Robert Stiffler professorship and I think Tim Motley is the ideal candidate for this unique position, which must bridge pure, academic research with the practical aspect of growing plants and interacting with the gardening public.

"All of this is part of a very exciting time for plant science at ODU. When this institution first offered courses 75 years ago, botany was one of them! Now we have two endowed professorships in plant science, a link with a botanical garden and a new greenhouse conservatory," Musselman said.

The Stiffler professor will have teaching responsibilities and office hours at ODU, as well as greenhouse and research space at NBG. This is the garden's first research position. "We feel fortunate to have the opportunity for top-notch research to be conducted at our garden," said Donald Buma, executive director of NBG.

This article was posted on: March 7, 2006

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