A blog highlighting undergraduate research in the LeRoy Lab at Evergreen

Tag: Leaf Litter Lab (Page 1 of 2)

Interview with Evergreen Undergraduate Kelly Zenn

This photo was taken during summer 2019 fieldwork at Mount St. Helens by Evergreen undergraduate Angie Froedin-Morgensen.

If an animal represented your research methods, what would it be?

 “If I were to choose an animal that reflects my research style it would be a crab: I’m a bit protective of my work, always triple checking everything, moving backwards as much as I move forward.” 

What attracted you to this research?

“I learned about Carri’s work when she sat as a panelist for an event my film class put on “Waters Connect Us: A conversation about protecting and restoring water with Indigenous Communities, Environmental Scientists, and Media Creators” in 2019. I was intrigued by the unique opportunity to study newly formed watersheds on Mount St. Helens. It seemed to intersect perfectly with my interests in restoration ecology and I was inspired by how this research could be applied to environmental justice.”

This photo was taken during summer 2019 fieldwork at Mount St. Helens by Evergreen undergraduate Angie Froedin-Morgensen.

What do you love about MSH?

“I grew up in Kentucky, the land of soft, rolling hills. When I moved out West I knew only of the story my parents told about visiting the Mount St. Helens with my sister before I was born—how, when the curtains parted at the visitor center to reveal the volcano—my sister burst into tears, terrified by the destruction she had just seen on film. I always expected to feel that same fear. When I took my first steps through the Pumice plain, however, I was reminded of a quote from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass that reads, “a basket knows the dual powers of destruction and creation that shape the world. Mount St. Helens knows of these powers, too, of course. The eruption laid bare the conditions for new life to take hold and the fields of wildflowers now stand as a gentle reminder that things do not end with tragedy; there is always another page.”

This photo was taken during summer 2019 fieldwork at Mount St. Helens by Evergreen undergraduate Angie Froedin-Morgensen.

Do you identify as a Greener?

“I do, but I haven’t always. In identifying as a Greener, I’m grateful for the talented, patient professors I’ve worked with, the expansion of my worldview, and peers that helped me form a more comprehensive moral framework. There are so many incredibly unique opportunities at Evergreen and supporting students doing graduate-level research as an undergraduate is just one example of Evergreen’s strengths. For this and much else, I’m proud to call myself a Greener.”

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.” 

GEOGIRLS! Science Outreach

GeoGirls working in Willow Creek on the Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens in summer 2019. Photo by Carri LeRoy (Mavic2Pro by permit at MSHNVM).

One of the most exciting outreach activities done at MSH is a geology and nature camp for middle school girls that focuses on engaging the youth in the amazing world of science. They are called the “GeoGirls” and are organized by the Mount St. Helens Institute! Watch this short video:


“GeoGirls” are middle school girls from all over the country who spend a week doing research with scientists at Mount St. Helens. Photo by Carri LeRoy

This unique opportunity allows middle school girls to join in on fieldwork on the Pumice Plain and learn about the history of the mountain. Encouraging and supporting the youth developing skills, knowledge, and memories they can take with them for a lifetime! 

We volunteered to teach 25 middle school ”GeoGirls” how to measure stream velocity and sinuosity both summers 2018 and 2019. Photo by Carri LeRoy

GeoGirls is a collaborative effort that runs during the summer where those involved get to learn from REAL SCIENTISTS! Our lab volunteered to teach the 2018 and 2019 GeoGirls to measure things like stream sinuosity and velocity of MSH watersheds! 

Open/Closed Canopy Study- MORE RESEARCH!

The 2018-19 Open/Closed Canopy Study was done for 10 paired sites along Camp Creek, Geo-West Creek, Clear Creek, Forsyth Creek and Redrock Creek.

Following the largest landslide recorded in history- our team examined open and closed canopy differences along the five new watersheds! Looking at 10 paired sites along Camp Creek, Geo-West Creek, Clear Creek, Forsyth Creek and Redrock Creek we found some pretty interesting stuff!

Evergreen undergraduates Victoria Cowan and Lily Messinger filtering water for chemical analysis. Photo by Shauna Bittle, The Evergreen State College.

From July 2018 to May 2019 we were able to measure temperature patterns throughout wet and dry periods. As well as other physio-chemical measurements, algal community structure, macroinvertebrate community structure, and organic matter processing using canvas strips- but what’s so interesting?

A figure of the In-stream Canvas Strips: SH2 and FH2 showing the preliminary results.  

Macroinvertebrates were different among the streams! Algal communities also showed differences among streams and were influenced by DO and conductivity. Remember the canvas strips? They also showed differences in processing rates among the open and closed canopy sites and across streams!

Chemical differences in Male vs Female leaf litter

A colorful willow leaf collected along on of the Pumice Plain streams at Mount St. Helens. Photo by Carri LeRoy 

Across the Pumice plain of Mount St. Helens, our research has focused mainly on understanding how plant sex differences influence ecosystem processes. Members of our lab are studying the leaf litter of male and female willows at a chemical level!

Evergreen undergraduate Iris Garthwaite standing in front of the TOF mass spectrometer at the Center for Urban Waters in Tacoma.  Photo by Joy Ramstack Hobbs 

To identify if male and female willows have unique chemical signatures, we measured condensed tannin, C and N, and a whole suite of compounds using Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry (TOFMS) in collaboration with the Center for Urban Waters at UW Tacoma. 

TOF Mass Spec readings give preliminary identification of the compounds in the willow samples. Of the 1,500 -1,600 individual compounds isolated in each sample, there were about 150 compounds that differentiate between the male and female willow samples at MSH! 

Cluster diagram showing over 100 compounds that vary between male and female willows (red = present, blue = absent). Unpublished data.

Published Undergraduate Co-authors!

Our National Science Foundation (NSF) grant provided funding for two full field seasons at Mount St. Helens. In the first year, we collected a dataset comparing the colonization patterns of willow males and females on the Pumice Plain and published a paper in Ecosphere with four undergraduate co-authors (LeRoy et al. 2020)! 

One of the first papers to be published from our work at Mount St. Helens. Four co-authors are undergraduates at The Evergreen State College. (LeRoy et al. 2020, Ecosphere)
Several figures from the paper showing male-female willow differences in initial leaf chemistry and chemistry throughout the decomposition process. (LeRoy et al. 2020, Ecosphere)

We found that the leaf chemistry of male and female willows differs, where males have significantly higher nitrogen and females have higher C:N ratios (LeRoy et al. 2020). These patterns persist through time in the stream, providing in-stream invertebrates with variation in food resources.

Getting started on data analysis and paper writing around the fire at our field camp at Mount St. Helens in summer of 2018! Photo by Shannon Claeson

On long field trips, we get right to work analyzing data in the field. Our team consists of Evergreen faculty, Forest Service collaborators, and lots of invaluable undergraduate research assistants. Nothing better than data-analysis by the fire-side!  

Our study made the cover of the issue in Ecosphere. This is a drone photo taken with a permit of willow colonization on the Pumice Plain. Photo by Carri LeRoy (Mavic 2 Pro)

Some of our research involves using drone technology to explore willow colonization patterns. We were asked to contribute cover photos to the journal Ecosphere and one of our drone images made the cover! Follow along to learn more about the awesome, NSF funded work, collaborative student-faculty research on aquatic-terrestrial interactions in early successional headwater streams of Mount St. Helens! 

Willows at MSH!

Healthy willow growth alongside a young stream at Mount St. Helens. Photo by Carri LeRoy

Willows, Salix species, are a common riparian plant across the globe and are a key early successional species. Willows are known to increase water quality and stabilize banks, so it is not hard to believe they are a dominant riparian plant on the Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens.

Willows on the Pumice Plain (Salix sitchensis) are dioecious – meaning they have male and female individuals. Here you can see them tagged with blue and pink flagging. Photo by Carri LeRoy

Willows are a dioecious species (they have both male and female individual shrubs) that play a vital role in understanding ecological interactions across the Pumice Plain. Our lab has documented plant sex ratios, colonization locations, and chemical differences among willow populations to understand primary succession.

Female Sitka willow need to produce costly flowers and fruits. This might be one reason they colonize closer to streamsides. Photo by Angie Froedin-Morgensen

Interestingly, a high proportion of riparian plants are dioecious. We are working to understand what advantages there are to having male and female separation along streamsides in particular. In our system, females colonize closer to streams – maybe higher resource availability for producing flowers? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about our latest paper regarding willow sex differences at Mount St. Helens!

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.”

« Older posts