This summer I'm glad to report we have two IB Honors students doing independent research at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama.
Nathan Stables, IBH junior, is part of the NSF funded STRI REU Program which matches student research interests with those of faculty mentors that do research based in Panama. Nathan is working withProf. Andy Jones measuring genome sizes of tropical trees along sites that differ in soil fertility.
Venus Kuo, IBH senior, is working with me! Venus is part of a larger NSF funded project that is exploring how seeds are defended against diverse predators and pathogens, and how defensive traits are linked more broadly to tree life history. Venus was recently featured in STRI's weekly newsletter (photo and text courtesy of Sean Mattson).
"The hot and humid tropical forest floor voraciously decomposes
virtually anything that is biodegradable. So it came as a bit of a surprise when Jim Dalling, a professor at the University of Illinois, demonstrated that seeds from some pioneer tree species can retain their ability to germinate for up to four decades in forest topsoil. His research, published in The American Naturalist in 2009, inspired Venus Kuo, an undergrad at UI, to find out what keeps seeds viable. She suspects soil fungi. “Do they play some kind of a protective, mutually beneficial role for the seeds?” asked Kuo, as she hiked to the 50-hectare forest plot on Panama’s Barro Colorado Island where the seeds for the original study were collected. Pioneer trees are the first to emerge when a forest regenerates. But they need a lot of light and this is in low supply in the understory. Not until a tree falls and opens a gap will pioneers have a chance to grow into reproductive adults. Kuo will collect seeds from Dalling’s sites as well as other spots in the 50-hectare plot where tree census data suggest pioneer species rained seeds on the forest floor decades ago. She will test the seeds for viability and diversity of endophytic fungi, and compare her findings with younger seeds. She expects fungal diversity will be lower in older seeds, pointing to which fungi may promote long-term seed dormancy. “I think it can probably lead to some interesting questions about how we can predict tree emergence and canopy composition over time,” said Kuo".
IBH students travel the world, publish research papers, and do all sorts of amazing things