MS Projects for Prospective Students
Graduate students have the opportunity to be affiliated with our NSF-funded BII project on re-imagining restoration (http://www.newrootsforrestoration.org). One suite of BII projects addresses the broadscale applicability of perennial agroecosystems as a way to improve soil health and C capture, while a second project tests the effects of plant richness and functional diversity on the soil microbiome, nutrient cycling, and C sequestration. Graduate students will be expected to develop independent research using these projects as a base. There are also expanding opportunities to examine the diversity and functioning in orchid mycorrhizal associations.
Pitcher’s thistle (Cirsium pitcheri) is a federally threatened plant endemic to the western Great Lakes that is listed as endangered in Illinois and Indiana, threatened in Michigan and Wisconsin. Recent long-term studies have indicated that successional advancement is causing the decline of Pitcher’s thistle at blowouts but that populations are thriving on perched dune bluffs and large dune landscapes. To augment declining populations, we mixed seed sources from throughout the range to create genetically diverse and more viable populations. We are looking for a student to work with us to better understand and improve augmentation and restoration programs. We propose a series of studies to address efficacy of these methods for Pitcher’s thistle conservation. Previous genetic variation analysis (Fant et al. 2013-2014 and Sefton 2020) at these Great Lakes parks provides a unique opportunity to monitor temporal change in these populations and quantify the effectiveness of augmentation and reintroduction on generating genetically diverse populations, as well as examine impacts of weevil infestation on the genetics of this species. One goal is to quantify the effectiveness of population management. One site has improved diversity and connectivity between subpopulations through the use of temporal monitoring of genetic variation and the use of paternity analysis to look at seed and pollen movement. This project will require a combination of both field and lab work.