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2017 DeDecker Botanical Grant Awards

The Bristlecone Chapter of the California Native Plant Society has recently awarded these grants for botanical projects. The Mary DeDecker Botanical Grant Program annually awards funding for projects that increase the understanding and appreciation of our region’s unique native flora.

These grants are supported by the annual native plant sale. Persons funded are required to report on their research findings or how they used the grant money.

2017 DeDecker Botanical Grant Recipients Announced

The Bristlecone Chapter is very pleased to announce the recipients of this year’s DeDecker Botanical Grant. We had many competitive applications. It is through the success of our annual native plant sale and the generous donations of plant enthusiasts that we are able to support these excellent projects:

Courtney Collins (UC Riverside): How does White Mountain sagebrush expansion influence soil microbial nutrient cycling via shifts in extracellular enzyme production?

Progress report, November 20, 2017: In the White Mountains of California, recent research has shown that Artemisia rothrockii (Timberline sagebrush) is expanding upwards in elevation at a rate of 30 m/decade over the past 50 years (Kopp and Cleland 2014). Throughout my dissertation, I have determined that as sagebrush establishes in new areas, it alters microbial communities in the soil, including the diversity and community composition of soil bacteria, archaea, and fungi. For my 2017 Mary Dedecker Botanical grant, I proposed to test the impacts of sagebrush expansion on soil microbial community function. Measuring specific microbial functions, such as extracellular enzyme activity (EEA), can link changes in the microbial community composition to ecosystem functions such as decomposition and nutrient cycling, which ultimately affect plant fitness. Extracellular enzymes are secreted by microbial organisms into the soil solution to decompose organic material, such as dead plant litter into accessible nutrients including carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). EEA can vary greatly with the chemical composition of soil organic matter, which is primarily determined by plant litter inputs. Because sagebrush has complex leaf chemistry (high C, low N, high lignin, and phenolic compounds) compared to other grass and herbaceous alpine plant species, I hypothesized that sagebrush will enhance EEA in soils under its canopies.

My results have shown that as predicted, EEA was higher in soils under sagebrush canopies than outside and this results was strongest at high elevation sites where sagebrush has recently established. We found this to be true for both carbon and nitrogen cycling enzymes, but not for lignin. We also found that in soils where shrubs were removed for 5 years, EEA had declined significantly, versus 1 year, where EEA remained high. These results suggests that sagebrush may actually enhance decomposition and create local nutrient hot spots in soils below their canopies, and that this effect can last for a significant time even after shrubs die or are removed. This may have important implications for other alpine plant species growing under or nearby shrub canopies and may help facilitate the growth of more sagebrush seedlings in nutrient rich soils.

Dylan Neubauer: Herbarium project at Inyo National Forest Supervisor’s Office, Bishop – Working toward integration into the Consortium of California Herbaria

Progress Report coming soon...

Katherine Ross (UC Santa Cruz): Physiological sensitivity of eastern Sierra Nevada conifers to climate change
conifer study - Katherine Ross

My research examines the physiological sensitivity of conifers to climate variability in an effort to better understand how these species will likely be affected by future climate change. It explores the relationships between needle level gas exchange, and annual needle production, annual ring growth, and leaf and ring δ13C values, between years and across an elevation gradient in order to improve our understanding of the mechanistic pathways by which dominant conifer species respond to climate change. During the 2017 field season, I measured water potential, instantaneous gas exchange, and needle length for 58 individual trees comprising four species at four elevations, spanning approximately 500 m. I have repeated these measurements for these individuals for two consecutive years and will repeat them a final time next summer.

While I am still in the process of analyzing these data, some preliminary results show strong responses to inter-annual differences in precipitation, though these responses are not necessarily consistent across the elevational range investigated. As expected, soil moisture increases with elevation and decreases over the course of the growing season. June soil moisture was significantly higher in 2017 than 2016, consistent with the high total precipitation the previous winter. Stem water potential across species was higher in 2017 than 2016 and also significantly increased with elevation. Needle length (using cohorts of needles from a single branch) at the lowest two sites increased in 2016 and 2017 compared to 2014 and 2015, but this trend disappeared a the higher two sites. In contrast, needle-level instantaneous rates of net photosynthesis and stomatal conductance did not differ with elevation. In 2016, both were significantly lower in August than in June, but this decrease did not occur in 2017, indicating sufficient water availability to maintain higher photosynthetic rates later in the season.

Sophia Winitsky (Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Claremont Graduate University): A vascular flora of the Adobe Hills and Valley, Mono County, CA
Adobe Hills

The Adobe Hills Valley where Sophia Winitsky will conduct her Master’s thesis work with the assistance of a DeDecker Botanical Grant

Progress Report on the Flora of the Adobe Valley

For my master’s thesis, with the generous support of the Bristlecone Chapter of CNPS, I am undertaking a floristic inventory of the Adobe Valley and surrounding hills in Mono County, CA. This past field season, I was able to collect over 1,400 specimens. Since most of the historic collections have been along Highway 120 and other roads, I tried to focus on collecting from the less explored peaks and remote areas near the Nevada border. Some of the rare taxa documented this year that were either new to the area, or were found in new locations within the Adobe Valley include Tetradymia tetrameres, Allium atrorubens var. atrorubens, Micromonolepis pusilla, and Eremothera boothii var. boothii. The most endangered endemic plant in the area is Calochortus excavatus, which had a very prolific bloom this year along the shore of Black Lake.

My study area received high levels of precipitation this past winter, which allowed for many annual plants to germinate that may not be present each year, adding to the overall count of taxa new to the area. This winter I am working on identifying my specimens, traveling to herbaria that hold specimens of the region, preparing for my next field season, and presenting my project’s progress at the CNPS statewide conference. Thank you to White Mountain Research Station and the Bristlecone Chapter’s Mary DeDecker Botanical Grant for helping me fulfill my research goals! As well as to Mary DeDecker herself for paving the way and documenting rare and interesting taxa in the Adobe Valley.

Congratulations and good luck to each of you with your project!

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