This past year, I received a NSF GROW fellowship to study ferns in Marilyn Ball’s lab at the Australian National University. I was based in Canberra, the “bush capital,” for most of my time in Australia.
ANU is indeed situated in “the bush”! The university is surrounded by hills covered with native plants and wildlife.
Canberra is a great place for bird-watching! The cockatoos and parrots are everywhere.
sulfur-crested cockatoo in Canberra, Australia
King Parrots on ANU campus
I really enjoyed my time in Canberra. Stay tuned for the findings from my project!
Our study of how water moves through resurrection ferns was recently published in New Phytologist! This study was a collaboration with Drs. Anna Jacobsen and Brandon Pratt at California State University, Bakersfield.
We used high resolution micro-CT scans to visualize the dynamics of water movement in resurrection ferns while they were drying out and resurrecting. We combined this approach with light and fluorescence microscopy to learn which anatomical traits may facilitate desiccation tolerance in these ferns.
The abstract is available here, and requests for full text can be sent to helenireneholmlund at gmail dot com.
Dr. Jacobsen and Dr. Pratt’s websites are available here and here.
Our lab recently had a short paper (a disease “note”) accepted to the journal Plant Disease! The paper is titled “First Report of Botryosphaeria dothidea Causing Stem Canker and Plant Death in Malosma laurina in Southern California.” Pepperdine graduate (class of 2017) Natalie Aguirre is the lead author on the paper.
Over the last couple years, Natalie has investigated a serious fungal infection in Malosma laurina, a co-dominant chaparral shrub species on Pepperdine campus. M. laurina (laurel sumac) is an important member of the chaparral plant community throughout the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu, CA. In the past, this shrub has been very resistant to the effects of drought because of its deep roots that access deep water resources. While shallow-rooted plants experience dehydration, M. laurina has remained relatively hydrated.
However, in 2015 we noticed severe dieback in M. laurina along the coastal exposures of the Santa Monica Mountains. A fungus appears to be blocking water transport in the vascular system, cutting off water supply to the leaves. We suspect that the extended drought of 2012-present may have pre-disposed the plants to be more susceptible to this infection, perhaps by weakening their immune systems or limiting their carbon resources. In the photo below, you can clearly see where the point in the stem where the fungus is growing and blocking water supply to the leaves.
Measuring photosynthesis in infected M. laurina
B. dothidea growing in a Petri dish
Check out Natalie’s paper when it becomes available online! Also, she has presented this research at the Ecological Society of America (2017) and the Botanical Society of America (2016). You can read her abstracts here:
There are many student authors on this paper because this was a collaboration of many people in Dr. Davis’ lab! His Plant Physiology class (fall 2015) conducted their class projects on the M. laurina infection. Thanks to everyone’s hard work, we learned a lot about the nature of the fungal infection.
Natalie is currently working on a research Fulbright in Madrid, Spain. We are excited to see the great things in store for her!
Earlier this month, several of us took a field trip to Santa Cruz Island to continue our research project on foliar water uptake in island ferns. This time, we were transplanting island ferns to the mainland for further experiments.
As always, the boat ride was fantastic! Dolphins followed us part of the way, and the fog was clearly visible around the island as we approached.
The island has many different microsites with small differences in climate. Thus, we needed to travel all over the island to locate our eight diverse fern species!
Driving around the island
Leaving the field station
Many of the fern species were located near the west end of the island in Christy Pines. This seems like a logical place for the ferns to grow because this west end of the island is frequently foggy. After collecting the ferns, we continued past Christy Pines to Christy Beach.
The next day, we drove back to the dock at Prisoners’ Harbor. From there we hiked to Pelican Bay, where the rest of our fern species grow. There is a small perennial water source near Pelican Bay, and many of the dehydration sensitive evergreen ferns grow there.
The lookout house above Prisoners’ Harbor
Looking back at Prisoners’
Cristian beside the century plants at Pelican Bay
It was certainly a successful trip! I am excited for the experiments we will run over the next few months, and I am definitely looking forward to returning to the island.
Last August, I went to Oregon with my labmate Kate to view the solar eclipse! The journey was a fantastic adventure, and we enjoyed every minute of it.
First, we drove through Eureka and Crescent City in northern California. The air was filled with smoke from the nearby wildfires, creating a fiery sunset. Also, we drove past an enormous herd of elk.
We camped in the redwood forest, alongside the ferns and banana slugs.
Redwoods and ferns in Eureka, CA
Next, we drove by Crater Lake, which was also hazy from all the smoke, but still incredibly blue!
We camped that night at a place called Cinder Hill campground.
We were worried about traffic on the Oregon highways, so we left at 3 am! However, we got up extra early to make coffee.
Actually, there was no traffic on the way into Madras area to view the eclipse. We decided to view the eclipse from Cove Palisades campground and waited there. Cove Palisades alone was worth the trip! The state park is located at the junction of the Deschutes and Crooked rivers.
We were joined by many fellow eclipse chasers. The eclipse itself was breath-taking, like nothing I had ever seen!
Driving back to Eureka was when we hit the traffic. Our trip was extended from 7 hours to about 13 hours!
We stayed at Patrick’s Point State Park after that. The park has coastal redwoods growing near a beach.
Overall, the trip was fantastic. I hope I can go see the next eclipse!