Plants are fascinating! They can’t move (much), so they must be adapted to challenging environmental conditions or else become locally extinct. Although southern California seems like a comfortable place for humans to live, the extended summer drought means that plants here must survive for months with limited water.

Questions about plant water relations are central in the plant physiological ecology lab here at Pepperdine. How do plants get the water they need during the summer drought? Why can some plants survive with less water than others? What physiological and anatomical traits allow these plants to survive in “extreme” conditions?

Past research in our lab has focused on several key themes. To learn more about each group of projects, click on the links below. Pepperdine students should email Dr. Holmlund if they would like to start their own project! We have many unanswered questions and opportunities for independent student research.


Ferns typically need lots of water to survive, but some ferns can thrive without much water. Here in the Santa Monica Mountains surrounding Pepperdine University, ferns have adapted to survive seasonal drought. Click here to learn more about our lab’s work on drought-adapted ferns.


The chaparral is the dominant vegetation type in coastal southern California. Plants in the chaparral have adapted to survive seasonal drought and frequent fire. However, recent years have seen longer and more severe droughts as well as more frequent fires. Can the chaparral plants survive these changes? Click here to learn about opportunities for studying chaparral response to climate change.

Island biology

The Channel Islands off the coast of southern California provide exciting opportunities to study plant adaptations to island environments. For instance, some of the Channel Islands experience more frequent fog than the mainland ecosystem. Our research has shown that the island plants may have adapted to take advantage of the extra fog water. Click here to learn more about our work on Santa Cruz Island.

Salt tolerance

Saltwater kills most plants, but some plants thrive in the saltwater mangrove swamps along the coasts of the tropics. In fact, there are even some species of ferns that thrive in saltwater. I am researching how these mangrove ferns (genus Acrostichum) adjust their water relations to thrive in the saltwater habitat. Click here to learn more about our work on the mangrove ferns.

Want to join our lab?

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