A blog highlighting undergraduate research in the LeRoy Lab at Evergreen

Category: microbial community (Page 1 of 2)

Last Day Huge Collaborative Thank YOU!!!

We have been so lucky to work with so many awesome individuals in the field and in the lab over the past five years. Our NSF-funded research at Mount St. Helens has involved collaborators from the US Forest Service, Science Museum of Minnesota, Missouri State University, UW Tacoma, and Desert Research Institute.  

We have created research opportunities for over 25 undergraduate students at The Evergreen State College. Undergraduate students work collaboratively on this research from the very beginning of experimental design all the way through the final stages of publication!  

We would like to thank the National Science Foundation for our funding, the US Forest Service for in-kind support of Shannon Claeson, and the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument for our permit to do research on the volcano. We thank The Evergreen State College for logistical support and for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program for students. We thank the Mount St. Helens Institute for coordinating opportunities for science outreach 

Interview with Evergreen Undergraduate Lauren Thompson

Transferring from GHC, Evergreen undergraduate Lauren Thompson has always had an interest in Freshwater systems. Photos by Maddie Thompson & AG.

What is one of those mind blowing facts about MSH that you can’t un-know because it it so cool?  

“It is absolutely mind-blowing that there are novel stream systems on MSH! I am really into stream ecology so that blows my mind!” 

 What attracted you to this research?  

“Stream ecology focus. Previously I’ve worked in hatcheries and studying urban water systems. The whole concept of novel stream systems, scientist don’t get to witness first-hand novel streams, usually they are very old! So that really stuck with me in my interest of MSH.” 

 What is your role in the L3 lab?  

“To learn from Seniors in the group, get trained on things so that I can continue to pass that knowledge to others. I am leading the blog work, communicating our UG research is important because Evergreen isn’t really known for the research opportunities it provides UG. Public outreach!”  


What is a future goal you have? Next week, next year or 5 years?  

“Graduate school! My future goal in life is to obtain my PhD. I never would’ve pictured myself in doing so but I have really found where I excel in college. I think the L3 lab is an ideal environment in which I can learn vital skill sets in preparing myself more for grad school!”  


Evergreen undergraduate Lauren Thompson helps out with numerous tasks with MSH leaf litter, including weighing/grinding, DNA extractions, and condensed tannins! Photos by Lauren Thompson  

Do you identify as a Greener? What does that mean to you?  

“I am still new to Evergreen, so I haven’t found my role as a greener. At the same time, I have. You have to be both independent and collaborative and I do that with a lot of enthusiasm.”   

What is that thing that you can do now, that your past self would have never dreamed of?  

“For starters, I am a first gen student. I didn’t think I was going to go to college. More in depth, I never thought I would excel in statistics and scientific writing. I am very introverted, not normally vocal, but I am so passionate about public outreach. I excel at it and I am not afraid to put my voice out there when it comes to science communication.”   

There’s an idea of a scientist that we all carry, how do you fit or break that mold/expectation?  

“I definitely break that mold, I am not your typical scientist. I feel like I break those stereotypes because I know where I belong in the sciences. There’s an idea of a fully independent scientist, but I really believe in collaboration and I think that’s really how it works.” 

A little love for canceled conference abstracts!

Photos taken during summer 2019 field work at Mount St. Helens by Evergreen undergraduate Angie Froedin-Morgensen.

For the 2020 Society for Freshwater Science Annual conference, our lab had submitted 8 abstracts to present! The conference was canceled but let’s highlight some of the awesome work our lab members were eager to share! 

Evergreen undergraduate Angie Froedin-Morgensen has taken the lead on identification off MSH benthic macroinvertebrates! Her poster presentation focused on the macroinvertebrate communities between female and male Sitka willow leaf litters dropped in both summer and fall into MSH streams.

Photos taken during summer 2019 field work at Mount St. Helens by Evergreen undergraduate Angie Froedin-Morgensen.

Evergreen undergraduate Iris Garthwaite designed her own study that focused on Mount St. Helens willow flower inputs! Her poster presentation addressed differences in decomposition between catkin litter and willow leaves in a headwater stream of MSH!

Evergreen undergraduate Maddie Thompson took charge in describing canopy covering surveys done across the Pumice Plain! Her poster presentation aimed to address how post-eruption canopy cover development influences in-stream ecosystems! 

Photos taken during summer 2019 field work at Mount St. Helens by Evergreen undergraduate Angie Froedin-Morgensen.

Evergreen undergraduate Lauren Thompson found in interest in continuing some work regarding organic matter processing rates using canvas strips as a proxy. Her poster presentation focused on how organic matter processing differs across early successional streams at MSH!

Both Lauren and Maddie as well as our collaborator Abby at Missouri State University were awarded prestigious INSTARS fellowships which included travel awards to attend the conference and enhanced mentoring and networking while at the conference. Too bad the conference was canceled, but we’ve all pivoted to writing scientific papers instead! 

Interview with Evergreen Undergraduate Madeline Thompson

Transferring from GHC, Evergreen Undergraduate Madeline Thompson has always had an interest in working with freshwater ecosystems. Photo by Lauren Thompson 

What do you love about MSH? 

“The landscape has multiple areas that scientists of many different backgrounds can investigate. It’s not just a mountain, there are multiple scales of science that bring people together. “

What is one of those mind blowing facts about MSH that you can’t un-know because it is so cool? 

“It literally baffles my mind, that is was a moon landscape, literally bare, no life! To see all the pictures and it’s development in the last 40 years is mind-blowing. I had no idea! I wasn’t aware of the extent of the ecological impact of the eruption. “

What attracted you to this research? 

“Carri’s passion about the topic in general. Her first time talking about it showcased positive outcome from something that was pretty devastating. This resonated with my general optimism in life and my interest in streams. I gravitated towards her positivity and knowledge about the mountain.” 

Evergreen undergraduate Madeline Thompson working through several processes of DNA Extraction from incubated leaf litter. Photos by Lauren Thompson 

What is your role in the L3 lab? 

“I’m a blog enthusiast! DNA extractions. As a new member, it is a lot of learning from Angie and Iris (other undergraduates), but I bring my own skills and knowledge. Tasks like leaf chemistry, aquatic bugs and canvas strips, no limitations! I’ve been progressing in scientific writing with the help of Carri!”

What is a future goal you have? Next week, next year or 5 years? 

“I want to feel confident in UG experience and then go to grad school. In academia, you can always feel like there is more to learn, but also, I’ve come a long way and learned a lot and I want to feel confident in that.”  

Evergreen Undergraduate Madeline Thompson using the nanodrop on MSH willow DNA extraction samples. Photo by Lauren Thompson 

Do you identify as a Greener? What does that mean to you? 

“I had a hard time understanding what that meant until I joined the L3 lab. It means openness, it’s a family, we don’t expect anything from each other, we see each other’s contributions as being important. Acceptance is a great word to describe it.”

What is that thing that you can do now, that your past self would have never dreamed of? 

“Anything related to genetics, DNA, microbial communities. To reach that level of understanding, I just didn’t think I could ever do that kind of work.  Getting the opportunity to work w/ highly intelligent scientists and learn from them directly!”

There’s an idea of a scientist that we all carry, how do you fit or break that mould/expectation? 

“I do both. I am advocate for women in STEM, and minority groups. To stereotype a scientist really limits things and the opportunities to advance both in yourself and others.” 

DNA Extractions!

Litterbag showing willow leaf litter and a unique metal tag for identification!   

Across the Pumice Plain, willow leaf litter bags are placed into streams to conduct a variety of assays. After the leaves are colonized by bacteria and fungi and begin to decompose, we remove the leaves and use DNA extractions to identify microbial communities!

Various stages in the DNA extraction process: Macerated leaf material, intermediate stages of DNA extraction, and final extracts for analysis. Photos by Lauren Thompson

The DNA extraction process entails numerous lengthy, yet exciting steps. Whether its shaking samples up vigorously with a vortexer or lysing cell matter with solutions, Evergreen Undergraduates Lauren and Maddie Thompson are always up for the challenge!

Undergraduate Maddie Thompson testing for DNA concentrations on the nanodrop! Photo by Lauren Thompson

Extracted DNA from willow samples is then sent off to characterize microbes present! This identifies what microbes colonize first, starts decomposition, provides nutrients to aquatic macroinvertebrates, and may be influenced by the sex of willows!

Organic Matter Processing – Canvas Strips!

Evergreen undergraduate Maya Nabipoor getting ready to install canvas strips in Geo-West Creek on the Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens. Photo by Carri LeRoy 

To assess organic matter processing (OMP) within streams across the Pumice Plain, a subset of our research focuses on the use of canvas strips! Canvas strips are a standardized method to accurately examine in-stream ecosystem function. (Tiegs et al. 2013). @ScottTiegs 

Canvas strips with metal ID tags are placed across the streams and riparian zones of the Pumice Plain. This is done to measure how OMP rates vary across environmental differences in early successional streams of Mount St. Helens.

Canvas strips are used to estimate organic matter processing rates in streams and in riparian zones on the Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens. Photo by Carri LeRoy 

In order to measure OMP, canvas strip assays rely on the loss of tensile strength that corresponds to cellulose degradation while in-stream. Through collaborations with the Olympic College, our team measured this using a giant machine called a tensiometer!

Insects on Willows: Weevils, Beetles, Galling Herbivores

Chrysomelid beetle larvae chew on willow leaves – leaving these patterns of skeletonization behind. Photo by Carri LeRoy 

Willows across the Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens provide more than just riparian vegetation! They provide shelter, habitat and food to a variety of insects. Insects like Chrysomelid beetle larvae chew their way through willow leaves!

The poplar & willow stem-boring weevil, Cryptorhynchus lapathi, was introduced to Mount St. Helens in 1989. Photo by Carri LeRoy 

Another insect that utilizes the willows is the stem-boring weevil, which is native to Europe but was introduced to Mount St Helens in 1989! The tiny long-nosed guys, show up a lot in our studies as they cause branch death and mortality of willows.    

Galling herbivores like this likely galling midge show variation in activity across the Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens. Photo by Carri LeRoy

Insects like galling midges have specialized feeding behaviors that require willow leaves as a host. They create new microhabitats for their young via galling. Stay tuned to learn more about the aquatic macroinvertebrates that colonize willow leaves that fall into streams!

Interview with Evergreen undergrad, Iris Garthwaite ‘20

Iris helping to tag Sitka willows as male or female (pink!) along Clear Creek at Mount St. Helens in summer 2019. Photo by Carri LeRoy 

“It’s unconventional, but I view ecological studies as a radical form of generous listening to the world around us. My current listening project (research) investigates the temporal dynamics of multitrophic interactions in aquatic-terrestrial ecosystems.”

“I am currently studying interactions between Salix sitchensis phenology, phytochemistry and stream biota at MSH. Advancing our understanding in this research area allows for better predictions of climate -driven ecological mismatch in land-water ecosystems.”

Iris helped coordinate science outreach for the Mount St. Helens Institute’s GeoGirls program in the summer of 2019. Here she is leading a pack of 25 middle school girls. Photo by Carri LeRoy

“Research at MSH with Dr. LeRoy has allowed me to:

  • Participate in NSF- funded research
  • Conduct independent stream ecology research
  • Co-author a peer-reviewed publication
  • Form strong relationships with peers and mentors
  • And so much more!”

“I am passionate about supporting other #WomenInSTEM and connecting youth with nature. I have such a supportive group in the L3 lab and I want to give others that same feeling of comfort with science and the natural world.” 

Iris and fellow undergraduate Victoria Cowan enjoying some shade on the blistering Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens in the summer of 2019. Photo by Carri LeRoy

“I am so excited to have two manuscripts in progress as an undergraduate. The sky is the limit for research opportunities at Evergreen. I am looking forward to publishing our research and sharing our work with the broader freshwater ecology community.”

“Research is an art form of listening, sometimes it is with a hyporheic well, an extraction, a pH meter, a mass spectra or simply sitting by the stream. Evergreen is my academic home, it understands my way of listening and my desire not to push my way into an answer but to find patterns and relationships in a landscape of uncertainty and null hypotheses.”

Iris and fellow field assistants taking a much needed rest in the shade of willows and alders at Mount St Helens, summer 2019. Photo by Carri LeRoy

“Instead of starting with the question- what do I want to discover? I like to enter a new study system with “what wants to be discovered?” I come from a background in permaculture, where we are taught to watch the land for quite some time before jumping in and making changes. Where does the shade hit in November? What family of plants sprout in February? Where does rain collect in December?  That’s the kind of science I like to do- meaningful, thoughtful and full of listening.”

Dr. Deb Finn – a Hyporheic Dynamo!

Evergreen Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) students Angie Froedin-Morgensen and Iris Garthwaite had opportunities to work with Dr. Deb Finn from Missouri State University in summer 2019. Photo by Carri LeRoy. 

Collaborator, Dr. Deb Finn (@streambug), Assistant Professor at Missouri State University, has provided many assets to our research program, far more than strictly field work. Connections like these provide Evergreen students with unique networking opportunities.

Dr. Deb Finn, measuring hyporheic depth in a shirt that matches the beautiful monkey flower in Forsyth Creek in 2019. Photo by Carri LeRoy. 

Working with Dr. Finn on the Pumice Plain means we had the opportunity to study the hyporheic zones of new streams at Mount St Helens! Undergraduates learned how to install and monitor hyporheic wells along the streams.

Evergreen undergraduate Iris Garthwaite checking hyporheic height in a well on the Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens in 2019. Photo by Carri LeRoy.  

Assessing hyporheic zones generated a lot of data for our team to better understand the novel watersheds at MSH. It turns out that 40 years isn’t long enough for most hyporheic zones to develop but we gained insight into up and downwelling and the potential for hyporheic habitat development!

3-year Permit to do Research at Mount St. Helens

Hiking the 3 miles out to our field sites in the morning. Photo by Shauna Bittle, The Evergreen State College.  

With the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument as a protected landscape, our team has a 3-year permit to do research on the Pumice Plain. We hike several miles to reach our study sites, often packing along heavy equipment, but the views of the volcano are worth it!

Dr. Carri LeRoy and Evergreen undergraduate Angie Froedin-Morgensen filtering water for chemical analysis. Photo by Shauna Bittle, The Evergreen State College. 

Our research in the newly formed watersheds of the Pumice Plain includes chemical analysis and water quality sampling. These data help us to understand the potential differences in water sources across Pumice Plain watersheds and predict influences on ecosystem function! 

Dr. Carri LeRoy recording field notes with the mountain as a backdrop. Photo by Shauna Bittle, The Evergreen State College.  

The most important thing in field work is proper documentation! What may seem like a tedious task, is a vital component of ensuring our team can continue publishing data about the primary succession of riverine communities at Mount St. Helens! Thanks to Evergreen State College for the great photos!

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