seeing the forest for the trees
Spring 2014 The earliest angiosperms are believed to have been woody evergreen trees in warm tropical environments. As angiosperms radiated into freezing environments, a number of traits, including deciduous leaf phenologies, small vascular conduits and/or herbaceous habits, likely facilitated their success in the cold, as found in a recent lab paper Pictured here are deciduous maple leaves, recently senesced as winter approaches in Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC, USA.

Fall 2013 entailed less travel than in past months for the lab with time spent mainly in AZ, DC and MO. Instead, we managed to convince various lab visitors, such as Tom Crowther and Dan Maynard from Yale, Dimitris Floudas from Clark University, and Colin Chapman from McGill University to visit us. The lab has also been enjoying joint lab meetings with Nathan Kraft’s group. Our biggest news is that Amy M successfully passed her oral qualifying exams! Congratulations Amy!!! 

Amy M finished up classes and teaching in the fall, and continued to monitor the fruiting of wood decay fungi on the SIGEO plot at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. This semester, she’ll be focused on identifying the fruiting bodies collected over the past 6 months and on setting up microcosms to examine the effect of temperature and moisture on wood decay gene expression and respiration. 

This year, Brad is looking forward to publishing cool results on how wood traits influence Ozark forest carbon flux during climate change. Upcoming papers improve methods for measuring traits, describe their impacts on key transitions in the carbon cycle and present a general framework for incorporating biodiversity effects into ecosystem process models. For a preview, check the following article highlighting our collaboration at Tyson Research Center:  60-acre forest near Eureka joins Smithsonian survey on climate change

Darcy enjoyed hosting her former labmate Dimitris, who taught the lab helpful techniques for identifying and culturing resupinate fungi. The first microcosm decay experiments in our GWU lab were set up by Jordan Fingerhut, a high school intern from the School Without Walls who is working with Darcy this year. She is looking at how species differences in leaf traits influence leaf mass loss and soil pH during litter decay. Darcy is looking forward to helping Jordan wrap up this project in time for the DC STEM Fair in March. In the meantime, Darcy is trying to gather loose ends from the 3-year 2012 rotplot harvest at Tyson Research Center before the upcoming 5-year harvest in June.

Mariya submitted the first year Tyson samples for sequencing and is eagerly awaiting the data. In the meantime she took a stab at culturing. Mariya plans on focusing on molecular work this spring and keeping the lab free of contaminated cultures. 

Oyomoare spent fall 2013 on analysis of long term composition and functional trait data for logged and unlogged forest in Kibale National Park, to determine the influence of logging history on structure, composition, and dynamics of the forest. She presented some preliminary findings on the imprint of selective logging on the structure, composition, and dynamics of an East African rain forest, at one of the fall biolunch series in the Department of Biology, UMSL, and to the Webster Groves Nature Study Society in their November 6 weekly meeting. The plan for spring 2014 is to write up these results and finish off acquiring and processing anatomical images for determining the anatomical basis for radial change in wood density for 20 Panamanian species.

Amy Z attended the Software Carpentry bootcamp at Sesync this fall, just in time to teach functions in R to her Analyses in R class at GWU. Her paper, with other members of the Tempo and Mode of Plant Trait Evolution working group, entitled “Three keys to the radiation of angiosperms into freezing environments“ was published in Nature at the end of the year. The paper includes taxonomic and phylogenetic resources, scripts, and woodiness and freezing exposure databases freely available at Dryad. James Rosindell put the paper’s plant timetree up at his awesome OneZoom site. Also, look for her recent paper with Anna Richards, Ian Wright, and Tanja Lenz using a new method to determine sapwood capacitance and an upcoming working group paper on the clades that contribute most to functional distinctiveness in plants today in Journal of Ecology. She is about to launch the new R Consortium at GWU. This spring she will teach her comparative plant structure and function course again. She is looking forward to attending Caroline Lehmann and Sally Archibald’s catalysis meeting at NESCent entitled “The coevolution of plants and fire and consequences for the Earth System“ and visiting Dave Tank’s lab at University of Idaho in April.

The lab looks forward to visits soon by Stuart Davies and Jeremy Beaulieu. We are gearing up for our next big field harvest at Tyson this June, as well as various summer annual meetings, including a symposium Amy Z is co organizing with Amy Austin at ESA in Sacramento this summer entitled “Whether in Life or in Death: Fresh Perspectives on How Plants Affect Biogeochemical Cycling”.

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