PI: Sam St. Clair
We successfully completed the studies as outlined in the proposal and the data collected. The results have been written up a in a successfully defended MS thesis with three chapters (Tiffany Sharp) and another MS student is currently writing their thesis (Josh Day). Six undergraduate students completed mentored research credit and were paid to work on the project.
This project engaged undergraduate and graduate students in a research project to examine how fire, small mammal and ant activity influence plant invasions from desert communities in Utah.
Our study was conducted in experimental plots established in Rush Valley, Utah, which is 30 miles west of Utah County. These west deserts are experiencing more wildfires in recent years. What isn’t known is how fire and the effects of small mammal and ant consumers affect plant community. In the experiment we established five experimental quadrants in which 2 of the 4 plots were burned and two were left unburned (see photo below). In a burned and unburned plot we also excluded rodents using a fence and the other two plots where rodent access was allowed. We then conducted plant surveys to observe how rodents and ants affected plant invasions.
We found that over time that invasive plant species established in high density in burned plots especially in plots where small mammals were removed. Interestingly, as invasive plant species established at high density we observed that dust production drastically decreased in our experimental plots. However, these invasive plants are highly flammable and increase the chance of fires occurring again.
Mentored Graduate student
Tiffanny Sharp successfully defended her M.S. thesis on the project topic. Two of her papers are currently in peer review in international journals. Josh Day a second M.S. student has finished sample collections for 2 thesis chapters related to the topic.
Mentored undergraduate research participants paid on the project
Student success in the mentoring environment
We initiated this mentoring environment in the spring of 2014. Over the span of the project, approximately 25 research mentoring credits (494R) representing approximately 1000 research hours, have been earned by 6 undergraduate researchers (see above). The six undergraduate students were also employed full or part time, contributing several hundred additional student research hours to the project. From these studies, several oral presentations were given by myself or student working with MEG funding in that two-year period. From the completed studies, 4 papers will be published within the next year. Two undergraduate students will earn authorship on these papers for their contributions. Because of the success of the students in the mentoring environment and may close relationship with them I have been able to write strong letters of recommendation for employment, scholarships and entrance into professional and graduate school.
Project funds: Project funds were spent to hire the undergraduate student researchers and to cover travel costs between Provo and Rush Valley as outlined in the budget.
Anson Call: “Working on this project has given me the opportunity to experience ecology first-hand. After learning about data collection, experimental design, and ecosystem processes in the classroom, I could go into the field and see all of this in action. There’s a huge gap between “book smarts” and useful, applicable knowledge; working in Rush Valley closes that gap. Nothing has better prepared me for future career success than real, hands-on science, including the work I’ve done on this project.”
Justin Taylor: “What I learn in school doesn’t always stick, but when I use what I’m learning during field work I have a reason to remember it. The skills and knowledge I am gaining through this project are something I can be certain I will use as I continue my education and enter the work force. It’s given me a way to gauge what a career in science will be like, and gives assurance that I’m studying something that I will continue to enjoy doing.”
Tara Bishop: “The projects happening at Rush Valley have made it possible for me to pursue a lifelong dream of participating in first rate science in a system that I love. Rush Valley work has shown me what great experimental ecology research is as well as providing me opportunity to develop my observation and critical thinking skills, and gives me a strong foundation for all my future education.”
Josh Day: “This project has provided me the opportunity to experience good, practical science. I have been able to both observe and practice good experimental design, as well as collect my own data.”