Remembering 31-year-old botanist Gabriel Trujillo

This is tragic news—Gabriel Trujillo, 31-year-old botanist and PhD student at the University of California at Berkeley, was found dead on June 21, nine days after he was reported missing in the state of Sonora, Mexico, where he was conducting fieldwork for his dissertation. Gabriel described his research on his UC Berkeley page:

My wider interests include studying the forces that drive evolution in tropical plants and insects. More specifically, the rare transition of tropical woody plants into the temperate zone. These types of transitions shape the diversity and structure of forests around the world. I am particularly interested in the genera Cephalanthus a group of woody angiosperms with distributions from boreal to tropical zones. My research focuses on how functional plant traits associated with frost tolerance are lost and or gained, and how these traits facilitate species range expansion from their tropical origin into temperate zones.

El País reports:

After his family reported him missing, the scientist was found by agents of the State Public Security Police (Pesp) in a ravine a few meters from the edge of the stretch of road that leads from the town of San Nicolás to Tepoca, Yécora, Sonora Prosecutor's Office stated in a statement on June 30 — nine days after Trujillo was reported missing.

The botanist was in Mexico to advance his doctoral research. Although authorities have not discussed the possible causes of the murder, the autopsy carried out revealed that Trujillo died from several gunshot wounds. The leading hypothesis is that the homicide was related to narco violence. Yécora has become a war zone for organized crime and is one of the Mexican towns most affected by the turf wars between the different cartels in the region. Its geographic location — on the border of the state of Arizona and within "The Golden Triangle" (a region made up of overlapping parts of the states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua) — has made it a strategic point for drug trafficking to the United States. Sonora is also one of the most dangerous states in Mexico for environmental defenders.

He was in Mexico for his dissertation research and also to connect with his indigenous heritage. Again, El País:

On his trip to Mexico, the botanist also sought to reconnect with his indigenous Opata heritage, an ethnic group that lives in the mountains of Sonora and Chihuahua. Trujillo was a U.S. citizen, but felt strongly connected to the country of his family.

His obituary describes him as a passionate and vibrant lifelong learner who will be remembered for his academic contributions and for the deep impact he had on those who knew and loved him: 

Gabriel had a passion for nature and culture and a relentless drive for science. His deep appreciation for the natural world guided him to explore the wonders of the outdoors. He found solace in the beauty of nature, always eager to learn and protect the environment he held so dear. Gabriel's love for culture was infectious, and he immersed himself in learning about different traditions and customs, always seeking to broaden his understanding of the world. Gabe's vibrant spirit and compassionate nature leave an indelible mark on the lives of all fortunate to know him.

Read more about Gabriel and his work here.