PhD, Biology, University of Notre Dame
BA, Biology, Bellarmine University
As Tree Conservation Biologist, Dr. Sean Hoban works to understand, document, and conserve trees species, both rare and common. His research group is especially interested in the diversity within species- genetic diversity. Why genetics? Genes are one of the three fundamental elements of biodiversity (along with species and ecosystems), and they influence the variation in traits and functions of a species. Genetic diversity allows species to adapt and stay resilient in the face of changes in the environment. It is also essential for ecosystem stability, species coexistence, and success in habitat restoration. Also, genetic resources of many plant species help to advance horticulture, agriculture, forestry, and medicine.
Lab Vision: to provide knowledge and best practice advice for ensuring that species can not only survive into the future, but also thrive, adapt, and provide ecosystem functions in natural and human systems, in an era of rapid changes.
The Hoban Lab research program currently has four areas of focus:
(1) Theory: Using data and models to understand how forests have changed over time- how forests shift geographically or change in composition, especially over two timescales: since the last Ice Age or since the major impacts of humans in the 20th century. This knowledge about the past informs us about how well species can survive ongoing environmental change and habitat decline, and what species might be most at risk.
Example: We were recently funded by NSF to create an innovative informatic framework to combine different types of data about species’ past histories- genetic, fossil, environmental, and observational data, and associated models. This framework will be applied to numerous tree species in the Eastern USA, but will also be applicable globally.
(2) Knowledge: Conserving threatened trees by identifying and managing genetic threats in forests. We identify tree populations that are too isolated or inbred, and develop effective conservation/ management plans. We also prioritize genetically variable or unique locations for protection.
Example: We are working with Magnolia pyramidata, a species with small, fragmented populations throughout the southeastern USA, and Quercus boyntonii, a rare oak only found on sandstone outcrops in a few counties in Alabama, USA.
(3) Advice: Developing scientifically grounded guidance for creating and managing ex situ collections or in situ genetic reserves (including The Morton Arboretum’s collections). These places provide a “backup” for saving species from extinction, and also help scientists study and restore species. Our goal is to identify ways to ensure that conserved genetic variation is diverse, representative, and of the highest utility for the long term survival and resilience of species.
Example: We have quantified effectiveness of European ash gene conservation (Fraxinus excelsior) in the UK and white ash (F. americana) in North America, and are developing advice for other species. We have also collected seed from rare species in the sandy plains of the Western USA and the biodiverse hotspot of the Appalachian Mountains.
(4) Methods: Developing and improving statistical methods and software in genetics and conservation. Our group is particularly interested in making genetic data more accessible and usable to wider audiences, improving statistical tools, and summarizing complex data and knowledge for both scientists and policy makers. This work helps ensure that the conclusions we make from studies are accurate, conservation-relevant, and informative.
Example: We lead networks that are sharing expertise and protocols, and synthesizing knowledge. We recently published a special issue in the journal Evolutionary Applications about Next Generation Genetic Monitoring, and we are reviewing the state of knowledge of genetic diversity conservation with groups like GEO BON and the IUCN.
Summary and future work: Through these four areas, working with a worldwide network of dozens of collaborators, the Hoban lab aims to inform and guide management of species and landscapes, usually through an evolutionary lens. The lab has primarily studied species in the genera Quercus (oaks), Juglans (walnuts), Fraxinus (ash), and Pinus (pines). In the future we plan to expand our strengths to include: understanding genetic basis of disease resistance and other important traits in forest populations; quantifying the economics of seed collection and storage as well as quantifying the benefits of genetic diversity; understanding genetic diversity in human landscapes (horticulture, agriculture, and urban parks); and increasing publicly accessible knowledge and appreciation of the important benefits of genetic variation for society.
- Quantifying the conservation value of living collections
- Safeguarding Plant Collections by comparing ex situ and wild populations
- Preservation of seed in living collections of Quercus havardii, a Western sand dune oak
- Clonal structure and pollen biology of Quercus havardii, a Western sand dune oak
- Range-wide population structure of Quercus havardii, a Western sand dune oak
Dr. Hoban has published 46 peer-reviewed scientific articles and presented his work at dozens of regional, national, and international conferences and forums. He has planned and led workshops for the Society for Conservation Biology, the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden, and a European Union consortium of conservation geneticists called ConGRESS. He is a member of the IUCN Global Tree Specialist Group and the Conservation Genetics Specialist Group, the IUCN’s SSC Post-2020 Biodiversity Targets Task Force, and GEO BON (the Group on Earth Observation Biodiversity Observation Network). He is also an Editor for the journal Conservation Genetics. He has contributed technical expertise to several government agencies, including helping develop a new management strategy for CapeNature in South Africa. His teaching experience includes genetics, ecology, biostatistics, and plant science, as well as mentoring for K-12 students through the program PlantingScience.org. He has also mentored several undergraduate students through guided and independent research. Before coming to the Arboretum, Dr. Hoban received a PhD in Biology from The University of Notre Dame, under the advising of forest genetics researcher Dr. Jeanne Romero-Severson. He then worked as a postdoctoral researcher in France and Italy, and then received a prestigious, competitive postdoctoral fellowship to work at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis in Knoxville, Tennessee.