A blog highlighting undergraduate research in the LeRoy Lab at Evergreen

Tag: Undergraduates (Page 1 of 2)

The SURF Program

Celebrating the successes of our Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow students in 2019. From left, Angie Froedin-Morgensen, Carri LeRoy, Joy Ramstack Hobbs, Iris Garthwaite

The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program here at Evergreen is a multidisciplinary opportunity in which faculty design summer research projects with undergrads that open a pathway to a variety of opportunities!    

Evergreen Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows Iris Garthwaite and Angie Froedin-Morgensen presenting their research in 2019.

This program allows students to engage in real-world research and apply new skills to a wide range of research topics! Undergrads get to participate in seminars, work with a variety of collaborators, and participate in a final Symposium during the fall! 

Angie Froedin-Morgensen proudly presenting her final research based on the SURF program at Evergreen. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

In summer 2019, Undergraduates Iris and Angie joined the SURF cohort to conduct individual research projects on the Pumice Plain of MSH! The L3 lab is excited to work with this year’s 2020 SURF cohort and support our new student Aife Pasquale! 

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.” 

Society for Freshwater Science: Mount St Helens Research!

The joint ASLO-SFS conference was planned for early June of 2020. Our lab would have had a strong showing! 

Every year the Society for Freshwater Science holds an annual conference where scientists around the globe meet to share research done across a vast variety of aquatic ecosystems. Our lab had the honor of presenting our MSH research in June 2019! We submitted 8 abstracts to present in 2020, but the conference was canceled.

Undergraduate students Iris Garthwaite and Victoria Cowan present the results of our research projects at the Society for Freshwater Science conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, 2019. Photo by Carri LeRoy. 

Evergreen undergraduate students Iris Garthwaite and Victoria Cowan presented at the SFS 2019 Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah! Their project focused on the effects of nitrogen addition and herbivory interactions that alter litter chemistry and in-stream litter decomposition at Mount St Helens!

A trip to the Red Iguana in Salt Lake City as part of the Society for Freshwater Science conference in June 2019. It was a Marks-LeRoy-Best Lab reunion! 

Conferences are great opportunities to see old friends and make new connections. This is a joint Marks-LeRoy-Best lab reunion dinner at the Red Iguana. Stay tuned to learn more about our lab members who submitted abstracts for the 2020 Annual Conference!

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.

Condensed Tannins!

Prepped samples of ground leaves (left) and tannin samples mid-extraction process (right). Photos by Iris Garthwaite

Across the Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens, Sitka willows (Salix sitchensis) make up a major percentage of the riparian (streamside) vegetation. Parts of our research focuses on identifying phenolic compounds called condensed tannins within willow leaves!

Evergreen undergraduates, Lauren Thompson (left) and Maddie Thompson (right) running the condensed tannin extraction and assay. Photo by Iris Garthwaite

Condensed tannins of willow leaves may act as anti-herbivore compounds and make willow leaves less palatable based on their concentrations. The processes of condensed tannin extraction and assay are very long but filled with numerous colorful steps!  

The colorimetric condensed tannin assay results in an awesome gradient of pink! Photo by Madeline Thompson

Phenolic compounds may differ across the Pumice Plain or by plant sex (willow is dioecious!). Leaf chemistry can influence which insects utilize the leaves and rates of decomposition for leaf litter!

Benthic Macroinvertebrates of MSH

Caddisflies of all shapes and sizes have colonized Mount St. Helens. Photo by Angie Froedin-Morgensen

The eruption of Mount St Helens created pyroclastic flows, mudflows, and ash fallout that covered the Pumice Plain in over 100 ft of sterile material. Since then, new watersheds have formed, diverse fauna has colonized MSH streams, and our lab team has been there to document!

Our benthic macroinvertebrate sorting station. Photo by Angie Froedin-Morgensen

The benthic macroinvertebrates of MSH colonize, eat and utilize leaf litter that falls into streams. With the use of leaf litter bags, Undergraduates Angie Froedin-Morgensen and Brandy Ku’ualoha Kamakawiwoole spend hours under a microscope sorting these aquatic insects!

Stoneflies are particularly common inhabitants of Mount St. Helens streams. Photo by Angie Froedin-Morgensen

Aquatic insects like Ephemeroptera, Trichoptera, and Plecoptera all play a critical role in the aquatic food webs! Benthic macroinvertebrate communities provide amazing insight as indicators of biological conditions, and communities differ across MSH streams!  

Interview with Evergreen Undergraduate Angie Froedin-Morgensen

What is one of those mind-blowing facts about MSH that you can’t un-know?“I love how Mount St Helens was a completely sterile environment, then lupines showed up. The process of natural regeneration is amazing. It reminds me of the Big Bang Theory, life happening on its own.”  

What attracted you to research at Mount St Helens? “Being outside, learning the fundamentals of stream ecology, and the roles of rivers and streams in larger landscape processes.” 

What is your role in the L3 lab? “Bug master!” Angie has been leading the processing of 2 seasons x 3 harvests x 32 #litterbags = 192 litterbag communities. Aq. Insect abundances range from 25-100 per sample, so lots of bugs! Stay tuned for a blog highlighting pictures of some of the aquatic insects Angie’s documented! 

Fav aquatic insect? “Caddisfly (Trichoptera). I like the variation in their cases. Caddisfly silk is being studied as a potential waterproof adhesive. That this natural polymer can inspire product engineering is really cool!”  

Greatest challenge/area of growth? “Writing has been my greatest challenge. But I’ve learned a lot about keying insects and getting through peer-reviewed papers, getting through them faster, understanding terminology.”  

Quirky facts about the L3 lab? “How we aren’t intimidated by each other. We get to troubleshoot things together. We have a lot of independence in our lab, so we get to ask each other all the silly questions!”  

What are your future goals? “Finish sorting and identifying all the MSH 2019 litterbag samples, co-author a peer-reviewed paper on the leaf litter study, work with Dr. LeRoy to become a better scientific writer.”  

Snacks: What lab member’s lunch are you most envious of in lab meetings? “Iris or Joy!” Who has the best field snacks? “Deb has the best junk food, but Carri’s sesame sticks are also a win.”   

Do you identify as a Greener? “I do. I created my own path at Evergreen. It allowed me room to grow. I came to school for one thing, then my interests changed after working with science faculty. Now I’m weeks away from a BS Degree!

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!

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.”

Revisiting Samples from 1981/1982 – Dr. Norm Anderson

Dr. Norm Anderson – entomologist at Oregon State University who did early research at Mount St. Helens with PhD student Richard Meyerhoff. Photos: OSU archives, OSU Stream Team 

Dr. Norman Anderson was faculty of the Department of Entomology at Oregon State University from 1962 until he retired in 1995. He had a passion for aquatic insects and conducted research at Mount St. Helens.  In 2018, his collection from MSH was given to the Oregon State Arthropod Collection. 

The Oregon State Arthropod Collection is allowing us to inventory and accession part of Dr. Anderson’s collection. Photo by Evergreen student Brandy Ku’ualoha Kamakawiwoole who is taking the lead on this project. 

Evergreen undergraduate Brandy Ku’ualoha Kamakawiwoole is currently accessioning a subset of Dr. Anderson’s samples consisting of 903 vials. Each vial is viewed under the microscope, counted, and recorded in a spreadsheet. Each vial is given a unique serial number provided by the Oregon State Arthropod Collection with a barcode.


Some of Dr. Anderson’s samples are from as early as July 1981 following the May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Photos by Evergreen student Brandy Ku’ualoha Kamakawiwoole

Evergreen undergraduate Brandy Ku’ualoha Kamakawiwoole thinks it’s cool that some of the samples are from as early as July 1981! After she finishes, the data and a paper describing her methods will hopefully be published by the Arthropod Collection.

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