Katie Heineman, Ph.D.

Scientist

Dr. Katie Heineman serves San Diego Zoo Global as a Scientist in Plant Conservation. Dr. Heineman specializes in biodiversity informatics: the practice of documenting plant collections in a way that maximizes their research and conservation value. She built the data systems used by the Native Plant Seed Bank to track the monitoring history, herbarium specimens, seed inventory, genetic samples, and germination records for the 450+ native plant species curated at the seed bank. Dr. Heineman oversees the design and analysis of laboratory germination trials that help determine the best practices for curating valuable rare plant seed, and is working with partners to apply uncover new indicators of seed longevity in ex-situ seed collections.

Dr. Heineman is passionate about data sharing in the conservation community. She currently maintains the database of plant records used by the California Plant Rescue collaborative of botanical institutions to track progress toward their goal of securing the 1166 rarest California native plant species in conservation seed collections. She developed a prioritization web app to help seed collectors identify the uncollected rare species in their area that can contribute the greatest phylogenetic diversity to the collection. Dr. Heineman also promotes communication among rare plant experts through the development of the Center for Plant Conservation Rare Plant Academy web platform, which presents plant conservation best practice guidelines together with instructional videos and an online community forum. 

Katie earned her bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her Ph.D. in ecology at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. She conducted her dissertation research at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, where she evaluated the influence of tropical tree species functional traits on ecosystem nutrient and carbon cycling. When she is not working with plant data, Katie loves to fiddle with the real-life plants in her garden and play piano.

SCIENCE AT WORK