My love for plant community ecology began in the trees of the Hoh Rainforest of Washington State. Here, I was fortunate enough to conduct research on the mosses, liverworts, and hornworts that live in the canopy of big-leaf maple trees with Dr. Carrie Woods of the University of Puget Sound. Carrie is an exceptional scientist, and her love of plants was absolutely contagious. I carried this passion with me when I transferred to CU, Boulder, and am using this enthusiasm to pursue honors thesis in alpine plant community ecology.
Unfortunately, our world is warming at an unprecedented rate. As all elevations warm, ecosystems are shifting upwards to “chase” their ideal temperature. This upward shift is threatening to change the face of the alpine ecosystem. At the Niwot Ridge Long Term Ecological Research site in Ward, CO, shrubs have been encroaching on the alpine for almost 50 years now. These shrubs are creating microclimates that differ significantly from the surrounding alpine system, which can cause both functional and reproductive changes for the surrounding plant communities. The research I completed this summer through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity (UROP) program, under Laurel Brigham and Katie Suding, explored whether or not these shrub-induced microclimates were affecting the flowering phenology of 22 different alpine species. We also explored the parameters of the microclimates themselves, monitoring temperature and soil moisture throughout the summer.
After this whole honors process is done, I am hopefully going to continue my education here in the EBio department at CU in the fall as a Master’s Student. I later aim to take on a PhD elsewhere and hopefully become an educator, so that I can continue to spread stoke about plant communities!