Student Researcher Bio: Sophia Lawrence

Hello! I’m Sophia Lawrence, and I’m one of the undergraduates researching in the Lindroth Lab of Ecology. I’m a sophomore and a PEOPLE Scholar here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Dietetics. I am curious by nature and decided I wanted to start answering my own questions through research, which led me to taking the Undergraduate Research Seminar my freshman year. Through this seminar, I became involved in the Lindroth Lab and discovered how awesome it is to study aspen trees! Thus, I continued on again this year.

Sophia is surveying leaves  at the GxE common garden.

Sophia is surveying leaves at the GxE common garden.

So, what have I been up to this year? I’ve been researching genetic by environment interactions of aspen in one of our common garden experiments (a.k.a the GxE Corral). In particular, I’ve been investigating how aspen genetics and the environment can shape the tree’s tolerance and resistance (i.e., defense) to herbivory. I think it’s so cool how plants defend themselves, and it’s even more interesting looking at things that influence its response to herbivory! I was particularly interested in the influence of nutrients on the plant’s ability to tolerate herbivory, as well as if there was a trade-off between tolerance and resistance. I hypothesized that a plant genetics and environment will shape it’s resistance and tolerance to herbivory.

(a) I predict plants with high soil nutrients will have lower condensed tannin levels therefore decreased resistance to herbivory.

(b) I predict there is a tolerance and resistance trade off.

(c) I hypothesize aspen (Populus tremuloides) grown in high nutrient environments will have higher tolerance.

(d) I predict there will be genotype by environment interactions.

I ended up finding that most of the aspen in the experiment were tolerant to herbivory (i.e., the tree was able to make up for it’s lost leaf tissue and still grow as much as it normally would without herbivory)! Counter to my predictions, I didn’t find that aspen grown with higher soil nutrients would be more tolerant or that there was a trade-off between tolerance and resistance. Yet, I did find that trees grown with competition with grass were less tolerant to herbivory than trees grown without grass competition.

My results were surprising and I had the opportunity to present these findings at the 2015 Undergrad Research Symposium. It was a great experience! I had a personal record of four people that came up to me! It was fun and gratifying to present my work and have a conversation about it. Moving forward from the symposium, I hope to continue researching genetic by environment interactions of aspen trees. Aspen are the most widely distributed tree in North America, and thus it’s worthwhile to study its ecological impacts through genetic and environmental interactions.

Sophia presenting at the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Sophia presenting at the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

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