SPUR 2022: Forest resilience: Exploring factors that impact tree physiological responses to drought

Background

Climate change, especially in the western United States, is predicted to bring more frequent droughts and higher temperatures which threaten our ecologically and economically important forests. The future of western US forests in a rapidly changing climate hinges around how trees can survive climate stress, like drought. The lab studies the effects of climate change on forests, and our research specifically focuses on the physiological health of individual trees affected by drought and fire. Our goal is to determine how forests are responding to climate change, what areas/ species are most at risk, and how they may be able to recover. Our research will help illuminate when and where forests may be resilient or at risk as the climate continues to change, which matters enormously to society in terms of land management, carbon sequestration, ecosystem services like tourism, and our western landscapes.

Student Role

The student’s role in this study will be highly dynamic and time will be spent across a wide range of tasks. The student will get a variety of experiences in both the lab and in the field. We plan to take the student with us on field excursions to collect samples, conduct surveys, and establish field research plots in the Utah and Colorado areas. In the lab, the student will assist with multiple different physiological measurements that we use to understand tree health and function. These measurements tell us how much the plant is photosynthesizing, how drought-stressed the plant is, how much water the plant can transport, and how drought-adapted the plant is. We will also work with the student to help them design their own research project that can be carried out with the materials and time available, which they will present in the end-of-summer Summer Symposium.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

Working with us in the Anderegg Lab will give the student the chance to gain research experience in a large, supportive lab group. The student will become familiar with common forest ecology and physiology methods and concepts, using state-of-the-art technology for certain methods. There will be a focus on effective science communication and experimental design. In addition to assisting with our current projects, students will design their own testable hypotheses, collect data, and communicate their results with others at bi-weekly lab meetings, the SPUR bi-weekly update meetings, presentation of research at the Summer Symposium, and publication through the Undergraduate Research Journal. By the end of the program, the student will have a better grasp on being an independent researcher and should feel more confident with communicating, critical thinking, and problem solving — all of which are important aspects for meeting the expectations of any future career.

William Anderegg
Associate Professor

School of Biological Sciences
College of Science

We will meet regularly with the student to help them with their independent project design, learn new techniques, to help prepare them for SPUR meetings, and to answer any questions that they may have. In these meetings, we will guide the student and help them learn at their own pace in a supportive environment. We want the student to feel comfortable asking questions while learning new methods and concepts. In addition, students will be able to meet with members of the lab whenever needed or desired so they can participate in our lab’s collaborative environment and possibly work on other projects that may interest them. Near the end of the 10-week program, we will help the student with data analysis, poster creation and formatting, and presentation practice. If the student is eligible and choses to continue work into Fall 2022, we will provide assistance and support for submitting a follow-up (e.g. UROP) proposal.