The following was taken from CalIran Newsletter (A Yahoogroups mailing list) Vol. 1 no. 1,

Press Release
October 25, 2003

Botanical Travels to Iran

A team of qualified botanists representing the diversity of institutions around the United States and Iran are gathered to establish a comprehensive collection of Iranian plants at UC- Berkeley. Dr. Tahbaz, the first female professor at the College of Agriculture of the University of Tehran, had been working at the University and Jepson Herbaria at UC Berkeley for over fifteen years. Putting thoughts into action, she sent a letter to President Khatemi via the Iranian cultural office at the United Nation, agreeing that it was time for scientists to get beyond political differences and to promote scientific interchange in ways that could mutually benefit both countries. She further suggested that a delegation of botanists from UC Berkeley would be an excellent starting point.

As a result, in May 1999 two women scientists from Berkeley became the first American-based botanists to be invited to Iran in two decades. Now a naturalized American citizen, Dr. Tahbaz returned to her beloved homeland, twenty years after she had left to pursue a sabbatical at UC Davis. She was accompanied by Dr. Barbara Ertter, a research botanist at UC-Berkeley with special expertise in the flora of western North America., whose enthusiasm for the comparative biogeographic potential overcame her initial trepidations of traveling to Iran, so long the bogeyman to mainstream Americans. Instead of the feared anti-American sentiment, however, they were treated to three weeks of royal hosting by universities in Tehran, Mashhad, Mazandaran, and Tabriz. Their illustrated talks on UC- Berkeley and western North America at each of these universities were greeted by enthusiastic audiences and numerous questions from faculty, staff and students. Tahbaz and Ertter were also taken to a diversity of field sites, where they could observe the native vegetation and a variety of land use practices.

Building on this initial interaction, Tahbaz and Ertter obtained funds from the National Geographic Society to bring additional American botanists to Iran. In collaboration with the University of Tehran College of Agriculture, a joint collecting expedition to northern Iran took place in October 2002. Tahbaz and Ertter were joined on this trip by Dr. Brent Mishler, Professor and the Director of the University and Jepson Herbaria, and Dr. Daniel Norris, Curator of Bryology and Emeritus Professor at Humboldt State University. A diversity of Iranian botanists participated as well, representing the University of Tehran College of Agriculture at Karaj, University of Bu-Ali Sina in Hamedan, Razi University in Kermanshah, and Semnan field station. Highlights of the expedition included the rich forests of Sisangan and Golestan national parks, an oak forest near the Iraqi border, the Kheyrud Kenar Educational and Experimental Forest (run by the University of Tehran College of Forestry), a saline wash near Semnan, and a transect of the Alborz Mountains south of Ramsar. Hundreds of specimens were collected, with mosses being particularly well represented at this time of year.

As a reciprocal component of the interchange program, two botanists from the University of Tehran College of Agriculture were invited to UC Berkeley in August and September of 2003. Dr. Hossein Lessani (Professor and Director of the College's Botanical Garden) and Eng. Marzieh Mahdavian (Assistant Professor) of the College of Agriculture spent four weeks each as the guests of the University and Jepson Herbaria. The primary purpose of the invitation was to allow representatives from our primary collaborating institution in Iran to become familiar with botanical collection, preservation, and research protocols currently in use at the University and Jepson Herbaria, as well as the educational and research opportunities in the western United States in general. The visiting scientists interacted with a diversity of biologists at the University of California, University of Nevada, and Utah State University, among other institutions. Lessani and Mahdavian also were able observe how botanists in universities, land management agencies, conservation societies, and the private sector operate in a network, possibly serving as a future model for Iran. They were also taken to a wide diversity of habitat types in the western United States, ranging from coastal redwoods to Mojave desert to sagebrush scrub. The arid areas in particular are astonishingly similar to equivalent areas in Iran, creating an exceptional opportunity for a scientific interchange program that capitalizes on biogeographical similarities between the two countries and which could have significant land management implications for both countries.

The University and Jepson Herbaria of the University of California, Berkeley, are ideally suited to develop this comparative potential, given their status as the premier center for botanical research in western North America (http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/). Toward this goal, a second collecting expedition to Iran is currently scheduled for May 2004, intended to include botanists not only from UC Berkeley but also from other appropriate institutions. For more information please visit: http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/cal_iran.html

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