Science & Conservation Team

SDBG’s staff and research associates bring a wealth of experience, education, and expertise to our work.

Ari Novy, Ph.D.

President and CEO. Dr. Novy is a plant biologist with a wide range of expertise in plant science and education. Before joining San Diego Botanic Garden, he was Chief Scientist at the Leichtag Foundation, also in Encinitas, CA, and before that, Executive Director of the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC. He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers and regularly speaks on various horticultural and botanical topics nationally and internationally. Dr. Novy completed his graduate work at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he conducted research on plant population genetics, invasive species, plant conservation, horticultural improvement, agronomic risk assessment, beekeeping management, plant evolution and agricultural economics and policy. He remains an active researcher, holding an appointment as Adjunct Associate Professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies. For his complete bio, click here.

Colin Khoury

Senior Director of Science and Conservation. Colin was born and raised in the coastal sage scrub and the avocado and citrus orchards of San Diego County. He obtained a Master of Science in plant genetic resource conservation from the University of Birmingham, UK, and a PhD in production ecology and resource conservation from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He has held science and conservation positions at academic, nonprofit, industry, government, and international organizations across the US and in Italy and Colombia. Colin is thrilled to be back home, working for the conservation and use of plant diversity for people and for the planet.

Tony Gurnoe

Director of Conservation Horticulture. Tony Gurnoe found his love of plants through cooking plant-based meals for family and friends and by experiencing the awesome wonder of hiking amid wild open spaces. He put this passion to work variously over the past decade, including founding a small specialty nursery, managing diverse crops on his organic farm, and by helping to elevate the horticulture and conservation activities at the San Diego Botanic Garden. Tony has completed botanical field surveys and collecting work throughout six western states in partnership with federal, state, and local government agencies and land managers. His expertise emphasizes developing techniques and understanding that facilitate cultivation of rare and difficult plant species through studying the mechanics of their pollination and germination along with other ecophysiological traits critical to their successful cultivation.

C. Benjamin (Ben) Naman, Ph.D.

Director of Medicinal Plants Research. Ben joined SDBG in 2022 to develop a program of responsible and impactful scientific research studying the chemical biology of medicinal plants with the potential for commercial translation. Ben obtained a BS degree in Chemistry and Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University and PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences with Specialization in Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy from The Ohio State University. He moved to California as a postdoctoral scholar at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. Ben has four years industrial experience discovering new plant-derived natural flavors and fragrances to use as ingredients for food and beverage products. Ben also helped establish a new College of Food and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Ningbo, China, and there led a group studying South China Sea marine algae and selected plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Ben is excited to work with the staff at SDBG and our external collaborators near and far to better understand medicinal plants and their human health potential.

Rachel Sadowski

Conservation Specialist II. Rachel Sadowski received a B.S. in Environmental Science from University of Lynchburg and a Master of Advanced Studies (M.A.S.) in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her graduate school research focused on evaluating the long-term monitoring data on the plant communities in the salt marshes of the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve in order to establish a baseline for future sea-level rise and marsh migration. Rachel now works at the San Diego Botanic Garden, where she assists field surveys for plants of conservation interest, such as the threatened Encinitas baccharis (Baccharis vanessae) and the endangered Del Mar manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. crassifolia). Her work also includes seed collection, propagation and nursery care for these plants and other California natives for the purpose of reintroduction through restoration projects.

Joe DeWolf

Conservation Specialist I. Having last worked at SDBG in 2014, Joe returns to the Garden’s conservation team in 2022 with extensive experience in restoration ecology and land management of natural areas. Most recently, he worked as an Associate Biologist for Nature Collective for six years, where he managed the community-based habitat restoration programs and spearheaded the San Elijo native plant nursery and propagation program. He also served as Park Ranger for the City of San Diego for seven years, where he focused on land management of open spaces, habitat restoration, biological monitoring, and protection of natural and cultural resources. Joe was previously a gardener for SDBG for four years, as well as a gardener for the City and County of San Francisco. He holds B.A. in Physical and Biological Anthropology from San Diego State University.

Research Associates

Research associates are distinguished researchers based at other institutions who work closely with San Diego Botanic Garden’s science and conservation staff to safeguard and sustainably utilize plant life on our planet.

Jade d’Alpoim Guedes, Ph.D.

Archeobotanist and Ethnobiologist. Bio coming soon.

Jim Bartel

After retiring in 2014 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and his work on endangered species conservation, Bartel has continued his more than 40 years of botanical research on the genetics, ecology, and taxonomy of western or North American cypresses (Hesperocyparis) and their close allies. He also has continued his work on the taxonomy and distribution of the succulent genus Dudleya in California.

Todd P. Michael, Ph.D.

Todd fell in love with the diversity of plants back in the seventh grade after doing a leaf collecting project. He decided he wanted to understand the underlying code making plants so interesting, so he set off on a journey to sequence plant genomes. His lab at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies focuses on just that – sequencing and analyzing plant genomes. At the Salk Institute his group is part of the Harnessing Plant Initiative (HPI) that aims to develop crop plants that sequester more carbon via extensive root systems containing recalcitrant carbon polymers to fight climate change. In partnership with SDBG, Todd is continuing to explore the diversity of plant genomes with a focus on developing resources to preserve rare, medicinal, and regionally important plants. Todd received his PhD from Dartmouth College, and BA from the University of Virginia.

Pieter van Rooyen, Ph.D.

Bio coming soon.

Sula Vanderplank, Ph.D.

Sula has been working on the flora and ecology of the Californias since 2004, with a focus on the peninsula of Baja California. She is particularly interested in cross-border initiatives and synthetic transdisciplinary studies, and she conducts mostly field-based research.