SPUR 2021: ILLUMINATING HOW GENETICS AND ENVIRONMENT INFLUENCE ASPEN DROUGHT TOLERANCE AND RESPONSE TO CLIMATE CHANGE

Faculty Name:
William Anderegg

Department:
School of Biological Sciences

Faculty College:
Science

Email:


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

The future of western US forests in a rapidly changing climate hinges around how trees can survive climate stress, like drought. This research project aims to determine how aspen genetics (genotype) or environment (phenotype) influence drought tolerance in southwestern US aspen forests. Since droughts are expected to increase in frequency and severity for these forests under climate change, it is critical to understand which aspen trees will best survive future drought events. Aspen is a widely distributed tree species across North America and is composed of numerous locally-adapted populations. We will investigate this local drought adaptation by determining if an aspen population’s drought tolerance is due to its genetics or its environment. If the same level of drought tolerance exists in the population under a different environment, then drought tolerance is due to the genetics of the population.

We will determine if the drought tolerance of aspen trees from natural populations across the Intermountain West US is due to genetics or environment. In 2019, aspen were propagated from roots collections from 5 natural populations in Utah and Colorado. In 2020, the propagules were planted into an experimental garden on the University of Utah campus. In spring/summer 2021, the common garden will undergo a drought treatment, and physiological and morphological traits relevant to drought tolerance (i.e. leaf size, water conductivity through the wood tissue, photosynthesis, etc.) will be measured. This research project will consist of both garden and laboratory components to collect, process and analyze samples, and measure various morphological and physiological traits on the aspen trees.



Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position


Student Role:

The student’s role in this study will be highly dynamic and time will be spent across a wide range of tasks. Participation with this project will mostly entail assisting a graduate student with both garden and laboratory work as detailed below. However, the student will be expected to select and investigate an independent research project using the data collected for this project. Garden work for this project will take place at the Biology Growth Site located near Fort Douglas on the University of Utah campus. In the garden, the student will help with weeding the garden beds, collection of leaf and wood samples for laboratory analyses, and assist with morphological and physiological trait measurements. Laboratory work for this project will consist of processing collected leaf and wood samples, measuring certain morphological and physiological traits in the laboratory, and managing/entering/analyzing datasets. The student will also be expected to participate in bi-weekly lab meetings throughout the summer and to attend all SPUR-required activities. The student will be expected to work 35-40 hours per week. Remote Contingency Plan: As a contingency plan, the student can still be involved in the above project but instead of making measurements directly on the research garden, the student will be assisting remotely with the collection and analysis of project data. In particular, the student will help with processing and measuring (done remotely via computer) tree-ring data from the 5 aspen populations and also plant physiology and growth measurements taken by the graduate student. This will involve learning additional skills of image analysis, data analysis, and statistics.


Student Benefits:

Participation in this research project will provide an excellent opportunity for any student interested in pursuing a research career, but especially for students interested in ecology or forest ecophysiology research. The student will become familiar with common forest ecology and physiology methods and techniques, using state-of-the-art technology for certain methods. Exposure to this research will afford a familiarity with climate change-related problems affecting aspen forests in the southwest. In addition, the student will also gain critical skills in science communication. The student will learn how to effectively collaborate with others, and to communicate their research through bi-weekly lab meetings, the SPUR bi-weekly update meetings, presentation of research at the Summer Symposium, and publication through the Undergraduate Research Journal. The student will also gain important skills as an independent researcher. The student will be able to develop an independent research question and answer that question by collecting and analyzing their own data. By the end of the summer, the student should feel like a more confident scientific researcher and will have gained critical methods, analytical and communication skills that will be crucial for any future career.


Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021


Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.