A blog highlighting undergraduate research in the LeRoy Lab at Evergreen


USFS Ecologists Shannon Claeson and Charlie Crisafulli

Spirit Lake. Photo by Charlie Crisafulli

Our lab has collaborated with numerous scientists while working across the Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens. We have had the honor of working with USFS Ecologists Shannon Claeson and Charlie Crisafulli! Shannon is an aquatic entomologist and has co-led the stream surveys across the Pumice Plain since 2015.

USFS Ecologist Charlie Crisafulli has worked on Mount St. Helens since the eruption and helps us understand the willow stem boring weevil Cryptorhynchus lapathi. Photo by Carri LeRoy

Charlie Crisafulli has worked on Mount St Helens since the eruption in 1980 studying the initial and long-term responses of communities and ecosystems to large disturbances. A portion of his work focuses on the nonnative stem-boring weevil colonization and its influences on plant succession!

USFS Ecologist Shannon Claeson has collaborated on stream surveys at Mount St. Helens since 2015, but has worked on the mountain for over 10 years. Photo by Carri LeRoy

In working with Shannon and Charlie, our team members have been able to learn more about stream evolution across the Pumice Plain as well as the stem-boring weevil and its influences on MSH willows. In fact, our team has even identified that weevils prefer female over male willows across the Pumice Plain!

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.” 

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!

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! 

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!  

New Road Across the Pumice Plain at Mount St. Helens

The Truman Trail at Mount St. Helens is beautiful! Help stop the USFS from building a road here! Photo by Carri LeRoy.

Since the eruption of Mount St Helens, the landscape has turned into a living laboratory for ecological research. It’s the most studied volcano in the world. It allows scientists to track how ecosystems and species respond to major disturbances.


USFS already built this new road to access Spirit Lake in 2018. This was supposed to be the alternative to the Pumice Plain road. Photos by Carri LeRoy

Despite MSH being protected for natural recovery and research, for the past three years the USFS has been trying to build a road across the face of Mount St Helens. The creation of this road would destroy the Truman Trail and alter the ecosystem completely. Learn more about the threatened Truman Trail here: https://www.mshinstitute.org/about_us/rumblings-newsletter/romanos-rumblings-summer-2018.html

The Truman Trail provides excellent views of both Spirit Lake and the crater of Mount St Helens from the Pumice Plain. Photos by Carri LeRoy. 

Our research on newly developed streams across the Pumice Plain studies would be destroyed. Our lab and many others have been able to fight this off the last two years. To help get our voices heard, we need to actively fight this planned action: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57259

You can find out more about the project and read several scientists’ objections to the new proposed road here: https://tdn.com/news/local/forest-service-confirms-proposal-for-spirit-lake-access-road/article_bfa7f34f-4efc-5d80-9588-bda6549a75d7.html

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!

Data Collection in Newly Created Watersheds at MSH

When Mount St. Helens erupted, it resulted in a massive landslide that buried existing forests, streams, and watersheds. Since the eruption, five (5) novel watersheds have developed on the Pumice Plain. These streams on the north face of MSH have been our team’s main interest. 

Undergraduates, faculty and collaborators have been able to conduct studies on environmental variation and biotic communities across these watersheds to address in-stream primary succession because of the unique ecosystem the eruption of MSH created.

We are especially interested in how riparian plants influence stream channel dynamics, increase shade, and input organic matter to these newly developing streams. Stay tuned for more about how willow sex differences and a wandering weevil alter in-stream ecosystem function!


Stream gauges in all five watersheds help us track water flow and sediment movement- even through the dark and deep snow of winter.  Photo by Carri LeRoy
Tricky work of trying to keep our light loggers facing upwards in the middle of each streams – strap them to big rocks! Photo by Carri LeRoy