Researcher in the Spotlight – Allison Linnea Perrigo

Allison Perrigo is the new director of the Botanical Garden in Lund. Through her fascinating carreer, Allison experienced various leading positions linked to biodiversity both inside and outside of academia. What led her into the current position, and what are her future plans in Lund? Read the interview below!

Congratulation on your new position as director of the Botanical Garden at Lund University!

Thanks! Really happy to be here in Lund!

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your past positions? What is currently on top of your work agenda?

Sure! I usually describe my career path as “science adjacent” – meaning that I work alongside researchers and in a role that facilitates and implements research. Research itself hasn’t been my main focus for many years, although I do have a research background (PhD in Systematic Biology, 2013). That said, I do my best to keep some projects going on the side and have managed to keep my publication record reasonably active.

My current job is as the director of the Botanical Garden at Lund University. It is, of course dream job to run a garden! But running a garden is no easy job either it turns out, so I’ll be leaning quite a bit on what I learned during my previous job as the director of the Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre (GGBC) at the University of Gothenburg, as well as working as the manager of Alexandre Antonelli’s research group in Gothenburg.

At the GGBC, I worked with our 17 partner organisations across the region—including departments at the University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University, science centres, the botanical garden, zoos and aquaria and more—to build a biodiversity-focused platform connecting society, education, and research. At the same time, I managed a group of up to 20 researchers, mainly working on biogeography and biodiversity, taking care of many of the practicalities and management, while supporting Alex in strategic planning and leadership.

As I start at the garden, the top of my agenda is, without a doubt, to get to know the garden and team, and how it all works! It is a huge change to go from working with researchers that are trying to understand and protect biodiversity, usually by staring at their computers, to gardeners who are quite literally getting their hands dirty for the sake of cool and interesting plants every day. I feel like I have shifted from theory to practice, and my challenge now is to figure out just HOW that works and how I can ensure it works well. Luckily the team is really experienced and supportive, so they are helping me get up to speed quickly.

After this, I want to ensure that the garden functions as well as possible as a natural meeting point between society and science. Both are critical to our mission, and there are really important connections to foster in both directions.

Can you tell us about your latest publication?

Tresures from the Atlantic Rainforest! Data collection at Sito Baccus as a part of the Araca Project (Atlantic forest Research And Conservation Alliance).

Even though research isn’t my main focus, I do try to keep some projects going on the side. One of these was a review paper, which was eventually split into a pair of reviews, about the biodiversity of Madagascar published in Science last December.

These papers were a massive collaborative effort: we were four leading authors, along with a team of 81 further researchers! It taught me a lot about working in large groups, research across cultures, and—of course!—Malagasy biodiversity. We summarized a huge amount of publicly available data, further analysed and summarized information from the grey literature, and in the second paper, came up with a set of conservation recommendations through a collaborative process.

I have some fantastic colleagues who put together the figures in these. Even if you don’t read the papers, look at the figures: I think they summarize our main points both effectively and aesthetically.

Read more here:

Ralimanana, Perrigo, Smith et al (2022)

Antonelli, Smith, Perrigo, et al (2022)

What led you into your particular field of interest?

I suppose my field of interest is biodiversity, and especially the overlooked parts of it: slime molds, fungi and plants! In a general sense I have been interested in how the living world works ever since I can remember. But how that translated into a career has been one-part having the privilege to pursue what I find interesting, one-part networking, and one-part random chance.

I realized after my post-doc that trying to pursue a research career wasn’t for me. I think leaving research/academia is a hard decision to take, especially since it sometimes feels like there are very few people in academia that have experience elsewhere and are willing to discuss such a path as something other than a “failure to be a researcher.” But I have been lucky enough to have mentors that encouraged me to focus on the parts of the job that I find meaningful, like leadership, and to identify unique opportunities that fit me.

What are the implications of your work for the society?

The garden is an important green space in Lund – nearly everyone from Lund that I speak to tells me how much they enjoy and appreciate the garden. I hope that my work in these coming years will continue to be a part of providing this space to Lund residents and society at large, offering them chances to learn, explore and engage with plants.

Even beyond this, the garden is also a part of Lund University. As such, part of our mission is to be a resource for teaching and research, further serving society through this. Even beyond research and education, the garden is a space where ex situ, and even in situ in some cases, conservation can be carried out, safeguarding nature for us and future generations. 

Finally, let’s say you got unlimited  funds; where would you invest them?

 Off the top of my head, I would love to see the garden expand as a plant-focused space that first creeps out into the streets of Lund, replacing all the roadways with leafy valleys between the buildings, then into the surrounding countryside, across Skåne and eventually across Sweden, Denmark and beyond! It would be like a gargantuan biodiversity amoeba that takes over, protecting all the species it comes across along the way, turning grey to green! It would make us question what a botanical garden is, and what is simply “nature.” In some places, it would be totally wild, in others it would be well-tended by human that benefit from it but don’t exploit it, and with some really efficient public transport cross-crossing it. I’m not sure how far my unlimited funds would go in building a mega-garden, but as big as they can allow the pro-biodiversity-amoeba to grow: I’ll take that!

Thank you for a very interesting interview, Allison! We wish you the best of luck and success in your future paths!

(Photo: Allison Perrigo and Lydia Shellien-Walker, © RBG, Kew)