2021 Konza LTER Summer REUs
Participant: Maddy Siller
Institution: Kansas State University (senior in Fisheries, Wildlife, Conversation and Environmental Biology)
Advisor: Keith Gido (Kansas State University)
This summer, I was given the amazing opportunity to work in Keith Gido’s lab. During my internship, I studied the movement of stream fish in Kings Creek on Konza Prairie Biological Station and Fox Creek on Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. For this, I collected fish with the help of my mentor Keith and learned how to place PIT tags into the peritoneal cavity of the fish. Every other week I would go to each site to scan for fish, the data I collected was then analyzed to determine the apparent survival as well as the detection probability of each species. We were also able to determine which species moved up or downstream of the study site when water levels changes and which stayed.
Currently, with the help of Keith, I am writing a research paper with this data that will hopefully be published by next summer. In addition to my research, I was also able to assist Peter, a Ph. D. student in Keith’s lab, with his research on farm ponds. This allowed me to gain experience in identifying fish, gathering data in the field, and entering data into spreadsheets back at the lab. I am very grateful that I received this internship, not only did I have fun collecting data; it also allowed me to realize that I will defiantly be pursuing a career in fisheries when I graduate.
Participant: Lily Ivanov
Institution: Rice University (senior in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology)
Advisor: Allison Louthan (Kansas State University)
During this past summer, I was given the opportunity to research the tallgrass prairie ecosystem at Konza Prairie LTER. I created my own project from ground up, with the help of my mentors in the Louthan lab. During the first part of my REU I did background research on past Konza research, talked with Konza researchers from a variety of disciplines about my ideas, and familiarized myself with the prairie by conducting natural history observations and helping other researchers in the field.
Through in-depth conversations with Dr. Allison Louthan and Dr. Alex Sutton, I created a novel research project looking at the hybridization process of two different Lespedeza species native to Konza, L. capitata and L. violacea, who hybridize to produce Manns Bush Clover (Lespedeza x manniana). Both parent species are widely found across Konza but have slightly different habitat preferences, which may limit hybridization opportunities. To assess how parent species densities’ may impact hybridization potential, I found areas where both parent species were found together. I created 3x3 meter plots in areas containing varying densities of parent plants so that I could record the behaviors of pollinators in areas where L. violacea or L. capitata were more common. My research plan was to track the movement of each Lespedeza pollinator from flower to flower to monitor how much cross-pollination there was, allowing me to identify conditions most favorable for the first step of hybridization. I gained valuable insight into what creating a research question and methdology is actually like, and the lessons I learned about the challenges researchers must face have helped me with planning my Senior thesis at Rice University. I also gained many valuable field skills, which helped refine my goals for graduate school and will likely remain useful through the remainder of my career. Working with the Louthan lab taught me about the kind of lab environment I would like to pursue in the future, and I feel more prepared for a future in higher education. Most of all I am lucky that I got to explore such a fascinating and beautiful environment with the guidance of such remarkable people. Konza Prairie is truly an unforgettable place and I will never forget my time here.
Participant: Tessa Seifried
Institution: Northwestern University (junior in Environmental Science)
Advisor: Melinda Smith (Colorado State University)
During the summer of 2021, I worked at Konza in order to learn more about how nitrogen addition affects plant characteristics, such as basal width and height. In addition, I studied how nitrogen addition affects the level of grasshopper herbivory on the species Andropogon gerardii. Some of my fieldwork included: watering plots of prairie to simulate a massive rain event, making and burying resin bags, collecting light and soil moisture data, collecting grasshoppers, identifying and estimating the damage of Andropogon gerardii, and taking measurements of Dichanthelium plants. I have yet to analyse the data collected, but I plan on doing so soon, and I'm very excited to get the results!
I am very grateful for the summer opportunity I received, and it was a great way to throw me into the world of field work and help me better understand different field methods and ecological concepts.
Participant: Chester Hubbard
Institution: Kansas State University (senior in Geography)
Advisor: Arnaud Temme (Kansas State University)
Over the summer, I was tasked with studying the cliffs that are at Konza. I looked at how the properties of the area surrounding the cliffs affected their properties. So, I did a whole lot of measuring, observing, and walking over the summer. It was a great experience to have except for those 100°F + days. Those were some short days or else I would’ve been burning up on the side of the hill. I also had some scares from the critters that live out there. I would be walking along the cliff and one of them would jump out from behind a rock, a tree, or some tall grass, make some type of noise, make me jump, and then they would run/fly/crawl away. Of course, I wasn’t out there for the whole summer.
After collecting data from over several hundred different points in Konza, I started to implement that data into ArcGIS. That was a great learning experience for me. I’m a geography major so being able to use ArcGIS for something relevant to me that isn’t homework was pretty exciting. I got to create my own geodatabase and convert my data into features and rasters for analysis. I also got some experience with RStudio for some in-depth analysis. After using RStudio, I have actually started to like statistics due to being able to see the real-world applications that it has. It was exciting to be able to use the knowledge that I’ve learned here at K State and use that in real life. I actually have never done research before, so it was really cool to have this opportunity. Because of this experience with research, I have started to think about going to Grad school to conduct.
One last thing, I would like to do a shout-out to my advisor Arnaud Temme and his grad student Nicolas McCarroll. You guys helped give me a great research experience. I truly appreciate it.
Participant: Khyla Johnson
Institution: Marshall University (senior in Biology)
Advisor: Zak Ratajczak (Kansas State University)
During the opportunity given to me to pursue research at the Konza Prairie Biological Center, I was able to expand both my fieldwork experience and knowledge in areas such as plant identification and GPS use. My project focused on differences in vegetation heterogeneity across ungrazed, bison grazed, and cattle grazed watersheds. A team of field technicians and I sampled from one annually burned per grazing treatment. Within each watershed, a total of twenty, forty-meter transects were laid in randomized locations and every two meters, we measured percent cover of functional groups and biomass via a pasture meter. Plant biomass was also measured in the first and last subplots.
The goal of this study was to analyze if grazing from cattle yields similar increases in vegetation heterogeneity within small spatial scales as bison grazing. Although bison and cattle are not the exact same in their behavior, my original prediction was that the spatial scale which the megafauna are fenced is not large enough for behavioral differences, such as mobility, to differ between the two species. We hypothesized that the heterogeneity of grasses, forbs, subshrubs, shrubs, and bare-ground in the lowlands of an annually burned watershed with cattle grazing (C1A) will not be statistically different when compared to that of one with bison grazing (N1B). We also predicted that the sampled bison and cattle watersheds will show greater overall heterogeneity than that of an annually burned ungrazed watershed (1D).
Data shows that this hypothesis is not supported. Since differences in bison and cattle behavior have strictly been studied over broader spatial scales, the assumption was made that because of the animals’ relative similarities, smaller scales like the enclosure of the Konza prairie would cause smaller differences in how the two influence vegetation. Data from this study supports, however, that there are substantial differences in how bison and cattle each influence vegetation over small spatial scales. Bison grazed watersheds showed significantly more variation in cover of functional groups and biomass, compared to both cattle-grazed and ungrazed watersheds. Cattle watersheds had higher grass cover than ungrazed watersheds and less bare ground than bison watersheds. Bison-grazed watersheds had greater forb and shrub cover.
Apart from my work experience, I was able to make connections and friendships that I would not have been able if I did not receive this opportunity. Being from West Virginia, I was also able to experience plant communities and a change in landscape in general that I otherwise would not have been able to on the east coast. One of the greatest experiences from my summer was being able to stay on site at Konza for a portion of time. This allowed me to explore parts of the prairie that I would not have seen through only my field work.
2019 Konza LTER Summer REUs
Participant: Nicholas Vega Antuiano
Institution: Humboldt State University (senior in Rangeland Resource Science)
Advisor: Lydia Zeglin (Kansas State University)
The relationship between Arbuscular Mycorrhiza Fungi (AMF) and terrestrial vegetative life-spans to within the Phanerozoic Eon in the Paleozoic era during the Devonian period, making this relationship about 450 million years old. About 80% of the plants on earth have this AMF relationship. AMF are predominantly mutualistic with their host plant species, trading plant-fixed carbon for phosphorus and other plant essential nutrients. In some cases AMF will even provide protection for the host species. The role that plant-species-specific AMF relationships plays in the diversity of vegetation on landscapes has been examined in different aspects by interested investigators. Such investigations include those studying this phenomenon at Konza Prairie Biological Station (KPBS), which have suggested that the diversity of native plants within KPBS is associated with the presence of AMF due to host dependence on specific groups of AMF species. Subsequent studies have even alluded to the ability of some AMF relationships to exchange resources among other terrestrial plants.
The AMF association can be a belowground driver of aboveground ecosystem functions, such as the establishment and maintenance of dominant plant species populations, and thus may influence large-scale ecosystem changes like woody encroachment. Woody encroachment is responsible for grassland plant species displacement, and is present at KPBS, most prominently within experimental watersheds with different land management distinctions (specifically, low fire frequency). Is it possible that a species-specific AMF relationship can promote or maintain woody encroachment on watersheds within KPBS? Do woody encroachers and tall grasses have preferred AMF partners? Do management practices affect the AMF inoculum in the soil and thus the probability that woody plants can establish?
My investigation of these questions began this summer at KPBS working in the Zeglin lab with Principal Investigator Dr. Lydia Zeglin and Graduate student mentor Jaide Allenbrand. I collected paired root and bulk soil samples from nine experimental watersheds that included a factorial combination of annually and rarely burned, and bison grazed and ungrazed management treatments. The target plant species included two dominant woody encroachers roughleaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii) and eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginina), and two dominant grasses big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi) and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans). I extracted DNA from the root and soil samples, and amplified the fungal ITS gene from all samples using PCR. The PCR product was then further cleaned-up and combined into a single fungal library (including both soil and root DNA extracts), and sent for DNA sequencing (Illumina MiSeq). The resulting sequence data are complete and high-quality; however, this work took longer than 8 weeks so I am still corresponding with Dr. Zeglin to work through the data analysis and results. We are eager to learn whether any pattern in fungal species commonalities exists in the target plant species and soils with contrasting management. AMF symbionts may play a crucial role in mediating plant community compositional shifts, and data like these could provide an indicator for rangeland health observations and management decisions.
My time spent in the Zeglin Lab and at KPBS has been a rewarding experience that has certainly fostered my continued growth as a scientist. I am very thankful for those in the Zeglin Lab for the continuous support I received, which provided me with the resources and stability needed to hone my scientific discipline. Additionally, I gained a deep respect for my peers in the Zeglin Lab as they facilitated and reciprocated scientific maturity, friendship and community. Iron sharpens iron. I hope to one day offer a quality research opportunity of this caliber to students of my own one day- giving them these experiences, leading them through the growing pains and providing a summer well spent.
Participant: Matt Turnley
Institution: Simpson College (senior in Environmental Science and Business Management)
Advisor: Melinda Smith (Colorado State University) and Leena Vilonen (Ph.D. student)
During the summer 2019, I examined the impacts that both drought and high precipitation levels on soil nutrients in a tallgrass prairie. Attending a small, liberal arts school, it was incredibly helpful to gain insight into all of the work being done by larger, more research-focused universities, and partaking in research on the Konza Prairie was truly a dream come true. Each week I took soil respiration and soil moisture measurements, gaining valuable experience in both field work and data management. Throughout the summer, I also had the opportunity to help with soil coring/sieving, species composition work, and various other soil analyses in labs at Kansas State University and Colorado State University. My specific work took advantage of recent precipitation patterns, and compared soil respiration, soil moisture, C:N ratios, total organic carbon, and nitrogen/carbon mineralization between a drought year and a high precipitation year. Changes in precipitation levels and increased drought periods are projected impacts of climate change -- so understanding the effects of these climate changes is of great interest, particularly in an ecosystem that has already been largely destroyed by humans. I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity, and not only learned a lot about soil chemistry, but also about the graduate school process, working with others, and the many fascinating processes that occur in a tallgrass prairie.
Participant: Miguel Duarte
Institution: Arizona State University (senior in Biological Sciences)
Advisor: Meghan Avolio (Johns Hopkins University)
During my internship, I was fortunate enough to study traits of plants in several long-term nutrient addition experiments at the Konza Prairie Biological Station. The goal of the project was to see how traits of species differ over space and time between grasses and forbs, in response to ongoing N experiments at the Konza Prairie. Over the summer, I collected 6 individuals of 6 plant species (1 individual per species) across 3 experiments (ChANGE, P-Plots, NutNet), totaling 288 above-ground plant samples. While in the field, I took measurements of shoot length (cm), shoot diameter at base (mm), and the number of fully developed leaves on each shoot. Samples were immediately taken back to the lab for further measurements. From each shoot, I then found the youngest fully developed leaf to record its wet weight (g), leaf length (cm), leaf thickness (inches), and leaf toughness (g of sand required to tear leaf). Root samples were also collected, 2 individuals per subplot, one for the most dominant grass and one for the most dominant forb across all experiments. Dried shoot, leaf, and root masses were also recorded. Apart from my own project, I also assisted other researchers at Konza when I had the chance. I also spent time helping a graduate student collect samples for predawn and midday water potential measurements. I also assisted with the new ConSME project at KPBS with insecticide applications to the herbivore removal plots over the course of several days. This internship was a great experience because I able to work alongside many other researchers and with a great team, building my skills.
Participant: Aditi Arun
Institution: Kansas State University (senior in Biology)
Advisor: Kent Connell (Ph.D. student in John Blair's lab - Kansas State University)
This summer I was offered an amazing REU opportunity to expand my knowledge in the area of Ecological research. My research was based on soil carbon dynamics and how they are affected by the different photosynthetic pathways that are utilized by the plants. For this, I, along with my mentor Kent, visited Konza and collected samples from two plots, one of which was woody encroached and the other was still in grassland. The experience of working in the field felt amazing. This research opened up gates to new experiments and handling new types of equipment and now, I can most definitely say that I learned more about it and know more than I started off with. All this was possible only because of my REU mentor Kent, who gave me the opportunity to work on the project over the summer. Having an amazing mentor like him made the research more fun and I'm really grateful to have gotten this opportunity.