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From one world-class garden to another, and another…

Carreiras_PerfilPersonal archivesIn 1986, shortly before she began working on her master’s degree at the University of São Paulo (USP), botanist Daniela Zappi’s adviser gave her a present: a pair of leather gloves. “I went off and studied cactuses,” she recalls. Then 21, she traveled to the state of Minas Gerais to collect and study species of the cactus family in the Espinhaço, a mountainous region in central Brazil. During her stint there, she met English botanist Nigel Taylor, and the two later married. The gloves came in handy then, but it finally came time to retire them. In 1992, after completing her doctorate, also at USP, and working as a professor in an undergraduate biology course at São Paulo State University (Unesp) in Rio Claro, Zappi moved to England with her husband, who at the time was a researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London.

It wasn’t long before Kew Gardens hired the botanist from São Paulo, and she served in research and leadership positions in the areas of taxonomy and neotropical systematics.

“My goal was to develop strategies and methodologies to foster the conservation of Brazilian species through taxonomy information,” she says. Zappi initiated and supervised the digitization of the institution’s herbarium collections, with countless plants collected in Brazil that were added to their collection. In 2015, through this program of repatriating information on Brazilian plants, about 100,000 images of native species that are now at the Kew Gardens were released for online public access (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue nº 229).

While in England, Zappi worked on projects with Brazilian investigators, including botanists from the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens. In 2011 she moved to Asia, once again following her husband, who had become director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a major plant research and conservation center. She spent three years working at the Baia Gardens in Singapore, where she was in charge of education, interpretation and research projects on tropical plants. In 2014 she returned to Kew, this time as a researcher in the Conservation Department. The following year, more than two decades after she left Brazil, Zappi was appointed director of research of the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens.

Now 51, Zappi says she is keen to return to Brazil. “We will plan scientific research strategies for the next five years,” she explains. More challenges lie ahead. According to Zappi, the educational component needs to be aligned with the knowledge the institution generates and the cadre of researchers has to be replaced. “I feel more secure and ready to contribute to conducting research in Brazil.” This time, Zappi’s husband will follow her as she returns to Brazil.