A blog highlighting undergraduate research in the LeRoy Lab at Evergreen

Tag: Leaf Litter

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.” 

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.

We ? Leaf Litter Bags in the L3 (Leaf Litter Lab)!

Litter bags filled with willow leaves and flowers prepped for deployment and deployed in streams at Mount St. Helens. Photos by Carri LeRoy

Litter bags filled with willow leaves and flowers for undergraduate Iris Garthwaite’s independent research project as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. We use metal ID tags to track willow identity, plant sex, and weevil attack status. 

Willow leaves incubated in the streams of the Pumice Plain decompose and skeletonize over time. Photo by Carri LeRoy 

Litter bags installed in streams help us determine decomposition and organic matter cycling rates. Willow leaves and flowers are colonized by microbes and aquatic macroinvertebrates that eat microbes and shred leaves. SURF student Angie Froedin-Morgensen focuses on invert ID. 

Our research truck turned solar-powered drying oven – our solution to drying leaves at a remote field site! Photo by Carri LeRoy.

The whole crew gets involved when it’s time for peak leaf fall! Our studies are often limited by how much leaf litter we can catch at abscission. On multi-day trips, we get creative about drying leaves – we converted our research truck into a solar-powered drying oven! 

Research Presentations: A Glimpse of L3 Undergrads.

The Leaf Litter Lab had the honor of presenting a small glimpse into each individual scopes of research to Christine Hoffmann,  who works for the Public Relations Outreach here at Evergreen.

With focuses on the National Science Foundation-funded ecology research of Mount St. Helen’s, undergraduates have been able to take on multiple approaches to conduct individual research projects. 

Iris Garthwaite is a Senior who takes on both a peer-mentor and leadership role. She’s conducted an entire project around willow catkin and aquatic invertebrate interactions to investigate flowers as detrital resource for stream ecosystems. With the end of her research project she has been working hard at picking a graduate school and writing her first first-author paper!

Brandy speaking about the Norman H. Anderson macro-invertebrate samples.

Brandy Kamakawiwoole is a Junior working on aquatic macro-invertebrate sorting, stream GIF imaging, and analyzing historical BMI records. The historical records are from the 1981-1982 Norman H. Anderson Collection Samples, making them the first aquatic macro-invertebrate samples collected following the eruption of Mount St. Helens!

Angie Frödin-Morgensen is a Senior who has an interest in freshwater ecology. She spends most her time working hard at a microscope sorting through leaf litter to identify aquatic macro-invertebrates. Her research focuses on macro-invertebrate community differences between female and male Sitka willow leaf litter!

Angie discussing the important roles of macro-invertebrates as bio-indicators of streams.

Maddie Thompson is a Junior with interest in environment studies and ecology. She’s been continuing the research on canopy covering influencing in-stream ecosystem function. She also takes part in her research project that focuses on Willow DNA extractions to identify microbial communities.

Lauren Thompson is a Junior studying ecology and environmental studies. She’s continuing the research on how environmental conditions influence organic matter processing across Mount St. Helens watersheds. She works jointly with Maddie in assessing condensed tannin’s and Willow DNA extractions.

Stay tuned… Iris, Angie, Maddie and Lauren plan to attend and present at the 2020 Society for Freshwater Science Annual Meeting!

Published in Ecosphere: Plant sex influences aquatic-terrestrial interactions.

Dr. Carri LeRoy and research students navigating through a stream of Mount St. Helens.

Check out our latest paper “Plant sex influences aquatic-terrestrial interactions” featuring undergraduate co-authors!!

Learn more about the awesome collaborative work NSF funded student-faculty scientists are working on how sex of dioecious Sitka willows influences aquatic-terrestrial interactions in early successional headwater streams of Mount St. Helens.