Humphreys Lecturer Presents Dogwood Research

February 26, 2004

Paul CabeMolecular ecologist Paul R. Cabe delivered bad news and good news about the fate of flowering dogwood trees in the southern Appalachians to his audience for the Mary E. Humphreys Biology Lecture February 25.

The bad news: Many of the trees so familiar to Virginians will probably be wiped out in the next several decades by a fungal disease called dogwood anthracnose. The good news: It is likely that trees with genetic differences that make them resistant to the fungus will eventually be able to spread their resistant genes to other areas and repopulate the forests with hardier dogwoods.

Cabe, associate professor of biology at Washington and Lee University, is encouraged by the results of his latest research, which showed that there are two conditions working in the dogwoods’ favor: Genetic differences are widespread and genes are transferred frequently by birds that carry seeds from one area to another.

Cabe’s career as a scientist has had many incarnations, and he alternately refers to himself as a geneticist, an ornithologist and an ecologist. He is an expert on the spread of European starlings in America and completed his doctoral dissertation on the subject in 1994 at the University of Minnesota. Cabe is also a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the College of William and Mary.

“I started out as a field biologist, but to answer the questions I wanted to answer, I had to learn genetics,” Cabe said.

Cabe is the co-author of dozens of articles for scientific research publications and, in 1990, he earned a Fulbright Fellowship to study DNA fingerprinting of wild bird populations in England.

Cabe’s presentation inspired Mary Baldwin sophomore Randi Hou to not be confined to studying just one area of biology.

“As a biology student, sometimes you are afraid of being too specialized,” said Hou, a developmental biology student. “His work shows that it’s possible to be knowledgeable in many areas at once.”

“This is a nice opportunity to meet researchers who live in the area,” added Sarah Outterson ’06.

The Mary E. Humphreys Biology Lecture Series was established in 1992 to bring prominent scientists to the campus to present public lectures. Sponsoring the series are friends and formers students of Dr. Mary Humphreys, professor emerita of biology, who served on the biology faculty at Mary Baldwin for 25 years (1943-1968).