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A strand of kelp pressed on paper preserved as a botanical specimen.

Life on Earth

Botanist Dr. Shirley Tucker supports the preservation of natural history at CCBER

UC Santa Barbara’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER) is a facility dedicated to research, education, and outreach specializing in regional biodiversity and the restoration of campus land. Its UCSB Natural History Collections represent the irreplaceable documentation of life on Earth. Thanks to Dr. Shirley Tucker’s renewed support of the Tucker Curator of Biodiversity Collections and Botanical Research, the collections are stewarded by a dedicated researcher who conducts original research, mentors students, and makes the collections accessible to researchers and the public.

Dr. Tucker completed her Ph.D. in botany at UC Davis, where she studied under Dr. Katherine Esau before starting her 30-year career at Louisiana State University. Dr. Tucker's investment in UC Santa Barbara honors the legacy of Esau, who joined the UC Santa Barbara faculty alongside her close colleague Vernon Cheadle when he was named chancellor in 1962.

Shirley Tucker and CCBR students.
Shirley Tucker and CCBR students

The National Science Foundation supported Dr. Tucker’s work in floral anatomy and lichenology from 1957-2000. She brings to CCBER her decades of experience as a researcher, Director’s Council member, and philanthropist.

Established in 2015, the Tucker Curator is a hybrid position that combines the curation and oversight of the UCSB Natural History Collections with botanical research. The management of the nearly half-million specimens for use in research and education fulfills an important mission of CCBER and of UC Santa Barbara. The Tucker Curator is a resource for organismal biology on campus. Dr. Gregory Wahlert currently holds the position.

"In the past four years, I have had the opportunity to positively impact the research, education, and outreach missions of the Cheadle Center, as well as the chance to pursue my own botanical research interests in systematics and biodiversity studies,” said Greg. “As a steward of UCSB's Natural History Collections, I have been engaged in digitization efforts to share our specimen data with researchers and citizen scientists worldwide, while also providing hands-on training for student interns and volunteers. I am grateful for Shirley Tucker's generous support of my position, and I look forward to continuing to fulfill our mission and to increasing the impact on the many clients and communities we serve."

Dr. Tucker’s ongoing support has enabled a collections assistant, graduate students, and digitization staff. She also has inspired others to support the UCSB Natural History Collections and their pivotal role in research across disciplines.

“CCBER has historic significance and importance for the future,” said Dr. Tucker. One example is how ecologists rely on plant systematics — the science behind herbaria — to collect and analyze data over a long period of time. Data on blooming times can help inform our understanding of climate change.

In 1995, Dr. Tucker retired with her husband, noted entomologist Dr. Ken Tucker, to his hometown of Santa Barbara. It was then that Jennifer Thorsch, CCBER’s first Katherine Esau Director, welcomed her into the late Vernon Cheadle’s lab. Shirley has authored over 140 papers — 35 of which she published in “retirement” — on floral morphology, plant systematics, and the lichens of California.

In addition to her research and philanthropy on campus, Dr. Tucker created the Lichen Collection at UC Santa Barbara as a teaching collection for students and the community.

“Shirley’s generosity and creation of the Tucker Curator has exponentially improved all of our UCSB Natural History Collections,” said Katja Seltmann, current Katherine Esau Director of CCBER. “We could not have done it without her catalyzing vision, leadership and generosity.”