One University of New Mexico Ph.D. student is being recognized nationally for his showcasing of plant biological studies.

Joseph Kleinkopf just took first place in The American Institute of Biological Sciences’ (AIBS) annual Faces of Biology Photo Contest. 

Kleinkopf captured a photo of himself in action atop Sheepshead Peak, part of a challenging, 13-mile trail in Carson National Forest. Here, he’s collecting alpine plant specimens for his fieldwork in UNM’s Biology Department at over 12,000 feet in elevation. Museum of Southwestern Biology Herbarium collections manager, Harpo Faust, who captured the moment, encouraged him to submit the action shot.

“I was surprised to win, because there are a lot of really cool science photos. At the same time, it's a really cool photo,” Kleinkopf said, “One of the reasons for visiting this area is actually that we didn't know what we would find. Now we have a better idea of what grows there.​”

Since 2011, the AIBS contest has challenged scientists to become photographers and showcase the varied forms that biological research can take. Whether taken in a lab or in the field, these images have inspired scientists, educators, and students to explore how they can communicate their work to a broader audience.

Max field crew in the wilderness
Marx Field Crew L to R: Lauren Urenda, Jeremiah Westerman, Dr. Hannah Marx, Harpo Faust

Kleinkopf took home a cash prize of $250 and earned a subscription to the publication Bioscience for a full year.

“Fieldwork is different for everyone and depends on the questions of interest. Because we are interested in the overall floristic diversity of alpine summit communities, our process involves climbing to the highest point of each mountain and mapping out each site within the alpine habitat we want to visit,” he said. 

This journey into the Pecos Wilderness plant life is just one of 17 alpine summit communities Kleinkopf has hiked and sampled from in the southern Rocky Mountains. He, as well as his advisor and assistant professor Hannah Marx, as well as her lab team, are working on a collaborative project, called the "50 Peaks Project", to characterize alpine floral communities across western North America.

“For each site, we try to collect a voucher specimen–enough plants to fit on 2-3 herbarium sheets–of every species we can find, and then make note of their habitat, associated species, abundances and other notes that might be important later on.  By the end of the PhD program, I am hoping to be a well-rounded scientist,” Kleinkopf said.

Kleinkopf has always been interested in plant biodiversity and evolution and hopes his time in the Marx Lab and continued research into growing, living greenery will make an impact. He says he could not have made it this far into his fieldwork without that UNM support.

"I'm grateful to have won the award, but more grateful to the people without whom this work wouldn't be possible: Dr. Hannah Marx, and Harpo Faust, are amazing mentors who have taught me a lot about fieldwork and research,”  he said. “I also want to thank the field techs who helped out over the last two summers (Jeremiah Westerman, Lauren Urenda, Brianna Addison), the Marx Lab members (Bryana Olmeda, Erin Berkowitz, Lizzie Lombardi) and everyone at the herbarium, and of course, the people in my life who support everything I do, including my partner Madeline and dog Charlie.”