Emily and Christina (postdoc) were panelists at the “What’s next? Careers after graduate school” organized by Tulane Women+ in Science and Engineering held on April 26, 2018 at Tulane. Along with other panelists from the industry and government, they shared their personal stories on why they decided to go to grad school and chose academia as their career. Student participants were given a broad overview of different career paths after graduate school showing that a graduate degree can be used in many different ways as there are many transferable skills like project management, problem solving and data analysis.
Alison Cunningham, a Junior in the Farrer lab, presented a poster at the 2018 annual CELT (Center for Engaged Learning and Teaching) Student Research Poster Day. She joined 36 other undergrads from across the university who received funding from CELT to do independent research in a lab at Tulane. Alison investigated whether Common Reed (Phragmites australis) plants that were infected with scale insect had different microbiomes compared to plants that were not infected. The scale insect is a recent introduction from China and Japan that is devastating marsh communities in the Mississippi River delta. Using culture-based methods, she found that there was little difference in abundance or diversity of fungi in roots, stems, and leaves in plants with or without the scale; however she also found that leaves generally had higher fungal diversity compared to stems and roots, which was surprising as most plants have highest microbial diversity in root tissue. Future work will assess the identity of the fungal taxa using sequencing and test function with inoculation trials.
Pawel (post-doc in the Farrer Lab) will share the story behind his PhD project (from Western Australia) at the EcoLunch Seminar hosted on April 13, 2018 at 11am (Stern Building Room 2002, Tulane University). Pawel’s PhD project looked at ways to maximize restoration success of WA Banksia Woodland ecosystem with use of transferred topsoil seed bank. The presentation will introduce the natural history of the Western Australian Banksia woodland followed by discussion on outcomes of Banksia Woodland PhD restoration project (2012–2016).
Banksia woodland is a Mediterranean-type ecosystem, situated in Southwestern Australia, where summer drought and fire disturbances are the main drivers of the species-rich plant community. Compositionally, Banksia woodland comprises of about 1100 plant species and is expected to increase as on average 50-100 new species of plants are discovered each year in Western Australia. Exceptionally high diversification rate of the flora in Western Australia has often been attributed to the age of the landscape. While vegetation in the northern hemisphere was annihilated during the last glaciation period, Australian continent moved north towards the equator at the sufficient pace that prevented it from glaciation and sustained the continuous evolution of local flowering plants. Additionally, the absence of glaciation caused strong soil weathering (low soil nutrients) that in concert with xeric conditions was likely to prevent competitive exclusion amongst Banksia woodland taxa and allowed for widespread plant speciation.
Structurally, typical vegetation of Banksia woodland ecosystem is characterized by a number of drought and fire-adaptive functional traits, for example, hard-coated seeds, dormancy, serotiny, and fire-related germination cues that maintain species persistence in fire-prone environments. Many flowering species, including Banksia, rely also on birds for pollination services. During the wet winter they profusely produce nectar and during the summer they grow large seeds (enclosed within woody follicles) that form an important food source for multiple local birds, like iconic Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo and Short-billed Black Cockatoo.
Accumulation of a dormant seed bank is yet another adaptation to the fire-prone ecosystem of Banksia woodland. Approximately 60-80% of the total seeds produced by plants in the Banksia woodland ecosystem become incorporated as dormant propagules in the soil. This large topsoil seed bank is very important from the standpoint of restoration projects as the topsoil seed bank can be collected in the event of land clearing and used elsewhere. Thus, the native topsoil seed bank is a potentially effective resource to restore degraded areas. In my PhD, I used the transferred topsoil to examine how to manipulate onsite environmental barriers to re-establish Banksia woodland on degraded paddock (25ha).
I was a panelist at the Symposium: Indigenous Spaces, French Expectations: Exploring Exchanges Between Native and non-Native Peoples in Louisiana. While much recent attention has been paid to the 300-year anniversary of the founding of New Orleans, this symposium examined the Indigenous communities who inhabited this area long before European arrival. It brought together tribal members, anthropologists, historians, geologists, and ecologists to discuss their historical narrative and the current issues facing tribes in the area today – notably land loss, subsidence, and sea level rise.
My lab led a workshop this weekend for 5th and 6th grade girls from New Orleans, as part of the Girls in STEM at Tulane (GiST) event. Our workshop was titled “What’s the buzz?!” and taught girls about flowers and pollination. The students learned about flowers and then pretended they were bees and scouted for pollen and nectar sources in the quad. They then had to tell other “bees” where the flowers were by doing the waggle dance.
Postdoc Christina Birnbaum presented a poster at ESA last week – the first results from our lab’s coastal wetland work in SE Louisiana!
I was a SEEDS mentor again this year at the annual ESA meeting in Portland. My mentee was Kathryn Bloodworth, and she gave a great presentation about her undergrad research at Kellogg Biological Station on the effect of biofuels (switchgrass – shown below) on soil denitrification.