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Taylor Quedensley
Taylor Quedensley. photo by Tim Fitzgerald

Saving the Planet

by Beverly Newsam

Taylor Quedensley, an M.S. student in biology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), is so intrigued by research projects on the conservation of Latin American habitats that he's making it his career. 

Quedensley, one of two UNO recipients of a University of Nebraska Presidential Graduate Fellowship for 2005-06, recently completed thesis research titled A Taxonomic Survey of the Asteraceae on Volcán Zunil, Guatemala.  The fellowship includes a stipend of $12,000, which is funded through the University of Nebraska Foundation.

The survey he conducted in Guatemala on the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae), one of the most conspicuous floral components of the highland regions of Mexico and Central America, is invaluable to the understanding of the area's ecosystem.  "I am using this abundant plant family and multi-spectral satellite imagery to illustrate how land use is causing a decrease in Guatemalan cloud forest diversity," Quedensley said.  "The long-term goal of this research project is to implement conservation efforts in the region of Volcán Zunil and protect this diminishing cloud forest ecosystem."

He received his bachelor of science degree in horticulture with minors in entomology and biology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  In 1998, he began working with Latin American cloud forest plants at Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco.  Cloud forests are rainforests that only occur in specific tropical mountain areas.  Immersed in clouds most of the time, cloud forests have distinctive weather conditions that make them suitable for many species of plants and animals that can't be found elsewhere.

During his first trip to Guatemala in 2001, Quedensley said he discovered plant diversity, especially in the montane regions, and wanted to find out how land use was impacting it.  In December 2003, Quedensley returned to Guatemala as a UNO graduate student.  He became familiar with the logistics and legalities of collecting Guatemalan specimens and exporting them to the United States.  In total, Quedensley has spent five months in Guatemala on four research visits.

In addition, Quedensley has visited the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago multiple times and plans to return there this fall to finish identifying specimens collected during his thesis research.  He also plans to visit Guatemala early next year to give a presentation on the results of his research. 

Quedensley said he will complete further research on this topic as part of a Ph.D. program.  "I plan to pursue a career at an academic or museum institution that is working with conservation management policies of Latin American habitats, specifically those policies affecting cloud forest ecosystems," he said.

Receiving a Presidential Fellowship has been an extremely rewarding experience for him, and he said it is an honor to be recognized.  "I was extremely excited and emotional about receiving the fellowship," Quedensley said.  "It has enhanced my academic and professional career.  I am so grateful to the biology department at UNO for giving me all the support and guidance they have provided."

Beverly Newsam is a public relations staff member at UNO.  She can be reached at


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