Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Stephen Via - PhD candidate

Congratulations to our recent PhD candidate, Stephen Via!  He successfully defended his dissertation proposal titled "From seed to sky: the impacts of explosive compounds on vegetation across scales". Stephen also gave an outstanding presentation to his committee members.  Job well done!
A bit about his research: 
The presence of explosive compounds can act as a physiological filter controlling species’ establishment and success in contaminated areas. Explosive compounds in soils have negative effects on vegetation physiological processes, affecting health and survival. The precise impacts of these contaminants vary based on many factors, such as life stage and morphological/physiological tolerances, which are species specific. Many studies have demonstrated species- and individual-level impacts of explosive compounds; however, there is little research investigating multiple explosive simultaneously (such as Composition B). This limits our understanding of impacts in the field and our ability to scale up to community and ecosystem level effects. Thus, a cross-scale approach is needed to reduce speculation.
Stephen's project objectives are to: (1) investigate the impacts of explosive compounds on seed germination and plant establishment, (2) investigate the physiological and morphological impacts of explosive compounds on plant species, (3) quantify the impacts of explosive compounds on plant community structure, and (4) detect the presence of explosive compounds via remote sensing of vegetation.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Plant ecology today

As a scientist, it is not easy to put so much of your energy and passion into proposals and manuscripts which elicit a lot of negative feedback (not always, but often enough).  It can be discouraging to keep moving forward, but I will not stop because I believe I have a meaningful contribution to the direction and future of science.  However, the true meaning comes from the time in between these submissions - in the education of people.  My goal as a scientist is to make plant ecology more accessible to people.  There is not a lack of material or resources available, rather a lack of caring and understanding of why someone should care about plants.  I find this interesting as other topics are of great interest and passion that are intricately linked to plants (i.e. environment, climate change, sustainability, aesthetics).  As scientists and educators, we need to make our specialty topics more accessible to the interests of others by approaching from the side of the issue and then layering in the basic principles that are the foundation of our scientific understanding. 

I have just concluded a wonderful 2 day symposium at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden on the "science and art of placemaking".  What I heard over and over again were the basic concepts of plant ecology and general ecology in a different context.  It is more exciting to people when framed from issues we care about (i.e. our surrounding environment at many scales).  There is a new push from our cities, schools, and businesses to be eco-friendly and to do it properly, we should include the foundations of ecology.  Now is the time for a rebirth in the plant sciences.  We can help people to recognize why they care about plants again!  And I am committed to be a part of this revitalization.  Next semester I will modify the course Plant Ecology to include Sustainability.  Through engaging with the community of people already involved in sustainable practices and education, I can begin to layer in the foundation of plant ecology.  This can lead to new and exciting research questions and applications.  We can monitor the ability of different plants to remove unwanted pollutants from stormwater runoff; we can understand the role of plants in shaping our coastline for sustainable coastal management.  Our world in shaped by plants and their interaction with the environment which is rapidly changing.  Now we can begin to learn about plant ecology in a new context and excite a new generation of students!

" is not half so important to know as to feel." - Rachel Carson

But we are more receptive to the knowledge when we feel something deep about the topic.
By: Julie Zinnert