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 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 November I went to Pinnacles National Park. I found many ferns, most of which were Goldback Fern (Pentagramma triangularis, pictured below).
We also saw Coffee Fern (Pellaea andromedifolia) andBird’s Foot Fern (Pellaea mucronata) growing in the sandy soils around the Pinnacles.
I was surprised to find so much Giant Chain Fern (Woodwardia fimbriata), because this fern usually requires a lot of water, but it grew in the streams that ran through Pinnacles and near the waterfalls created by the giant rock formations.
Of course, there were no ferns growing inside the caves, but they did grow in the crevices outside.
Beautiful lichen grew on the rocks at the top of the Pinnacles!
Photo credits: Helen Holmlund (except for featured image, Sabrina Shirazi)
This summer I visited the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park in Washington State. Here in the temperate rainforest, the plants receive more than 100 inches of rain each year! The trees are covered with moss, and the ferns thrive in the understory.
The Hoh Rainforest is next to a river fed by melted glaciers. I saw a family of elk by the river!
In addition to covering the forest floor, many ferns grow as epiphytes on the moss-covered tree limbs (see polypody to the left).
Naturally, beautiful mushrooms also thrive in this environment.