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Sonia Molino, Andrea Seral, Rubén Vázquez y María Vicent

Obituary: Jose María Gabriel y Galán Morris (1968 - 2020)

American Fern Journal 111(1):57–61 (2021)

DOI: -


On March 13, 2020, the eminent and beloved Spanish pteridologist Dr. José maría gabriel y Galán passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. His loss, at the height of his scientific creativity and productivity, has been a severe blow to Iberian pteridologists and botanists. José maría gabriel y Galán became a member of the American Fern Society in 2009 and he was an associate editor of the American Fern Journal for nearly a decade. He was born in Madrid, Spain, on May 27, 1968. Although he had many interests, such as astronomy, philosophy, and history, he became attracted to the natural sciences when he discovered the documentaries of Felix Rodríguez de la Fuente, the famous Spanish naturalist, and Sir David Attenborough. Inspired by these two men and with the support of his family, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in Biology at Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM). Even though being initially more interested in animals, when he started to study botany in his degree it was love at first sight. He became more and more passionate about plants, and finally, in his last year, he ended up choosing the speciality of botany, where he met the woman who became his wife, María Puelles, and with whom he had three children. He completed his bachelor’s degree with a research thesis focused on vegetation and angiosperms, and later he would obtain his PhD with a dissertation on ecology. Following his formal training he held several jobs as a teacher, first in an academy in his village and then as a professor of botany in the degree of Pharmacy at Universidad Alfonso X el Sabio de Madrid (UAX). However, thanks to fate, life brought him back into contact with his old University, where he met Dr. Carmen Prada, who became his mentor and introduced him to the wonderful world of ferns. Since then, Jose María worked closely with Carmen, starting a fruitful relationship in the teaching of botany and what evolved into an active collaboration in fern research. His interest was focused on systematics, leading him to become part of The Pteridophyte Phylogeny Group (PPG), which, in 2016, published a contemporary revision of the classification system for pteridophytes (PPGI, 2016). At the same time, he also carried out many studies concerning the ecophysiology, biogeography, and development of ferns. He introduced molecular techniques into the cryptogamic research laboratory, which he invariably combined with the study of plant morphology and anatomy. He was also an active member of the Taxonomic and Diversity research group of the UCM. As a result of his taxonomic studies, he published several combinations and nomenclatural changes: Lomaridium angustifolium (Kunth) Vicent & Gabriel y Galán, Lomariocycas moritziana (Klotzsch) Gabriel y Galán & Vicent, Struthiopteris fallax (Lange) S. Molino, Gabriel y Galán, & Wasowicz, S. spicant var. homophyllum (Merino) Gabriel y Galán & R. Pino and S. spicant var. pradae S. Molino & Gabriel y Galán, the latter dedicated to his mentor. As is obvious from these taxa, he was particularly attracted to the family Blechnaceae, although he worked with other groups including members of the Aspleniaceae and Pteridaceae. In addition to his research work, he was a consistently beloved teacher at the UCM. His students always defined him as demanding but fair, as well as very funny, always making jokes (sometimes not very good ones) in order to better consolidate student knowledge. As a result, every year he directed bachelor’s and master’s projects. In addition, in 2017 his student, María Vicent, defended her doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Jose María and Carmen, which focused on various systematic aspects of the Blechnaceae family. Ultimately, Jose María supervised three more doctoral theses, one of them (Andrea Seral) considered the ecology of the Aspleniaceae, and two studied systematics of different genera of Blechnaceae, specifically Sonia Molino revised aspects of the genus Parablechnum C. Presl and Ruben Vázquez studied Lomaridium C. Presl and Cranfillia Gasper & V.A.O. Dittrich. In addition to this research supervision, Jose María initiated a Fern Identification Course at the Universidad Complutense, which held its fourth iteration last November and which was very well received every year. Moreover, he introduced a cycle of annual seminars in the Botany unit so that all the colleagues could share their lines of research and generate greater unity among the botanists of the UCM. Jose María was at all times a strong advocate of herbaria as a source of knowledge, and he became Director of the MACB Herbarium at the Faculty of Biological Sciences of the UCM in 2019. He was conscious of the value of visiting different environments to enhance his research, thus he travelled extensively to conduct field trips for plant collection and research activities around the world, including Costa Rica, Chile, Brazil, the United States of America, Iceland, and France among others. His passion was so great that he even took advantage of his vacation trips to collect plants with his family and friends. These specimens can still be found in the Fern Laboratory, where they serve as research and teaching aids, especially in the Fern Identification Course. Jose María understood science as a field where sharing and teamwork were undoubtedly the best options. With that in mind, he maintained strong collaborations globally with several botanists and pteridologists, and he was always open to bringing new students to his team. He loved his job and clearly transmitted that passion, dedicating much of his time in the University to sharing his knowledge and, with that goal, he created the Fern Laboratory. The Laboratory is now a prolific research group, with two funded research projects and several lines of active investigation. As a mentor he was supportive, confident, and generous, and for those reasons, the team he created will carry on with his legacy and will continue in his steps. Besides being a great professional, Jose María was always an example to all the people who crossed his path. He never refused help to anyone, and was always an inspiration for anyone who knew him. On March 13 of 2020, Jose María left us early, at the age of 51. His loss leaves a hole in the hearts of those who knew him that can never be filled again. Nevertheless, Jose María’s significant contributions to Pteridology and general Botany will remain forever. Likewise, he leaves behind a solid and consolidated team of young pteridologists who will not hesitate to carry his legacy to the very top, always in his honor.