Innovative science research to take place over summer, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation

Faculty member Carri LeRoy gives presentation on plants and streams to Evergreen students

Evergreen faculty member Carri LeRoy was recently awarded a $199,992 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant will fund a research project, set to begin on July 1, which will examine plant genes and their influences on stream development and function.

Since rivers are generally very old, relatively little is known about how they form. Because of this, research on new streams could provide a wealth of information about the formation of rivers and the role of plants in that process. LeRoy and her collaborators will seek to do just that by studying the impact of trees on newly formed streams at Mount St. Helens.

“Studying the establishment of trees along new streams is important because they can influence many other organisms and the ecosystem services they provide,” said LeRoy. “This research will increase our understanding of successionary processes in streams and the influences of plant genetics on the development of stream ecosystems in a post-eruption volcanic landscape.”

Working alongside LeRoy will be Evergreen faculty member Dylan Fischer, Research Scientist from the Science Museum of Minnesota Joy Ramstack-Hobbs, U.S. Forest Service Scientist Shannon Claeson, and several Evergreen undergraduate students who will be doing advanced research for the project.

LeRoy has over 15 years of experience studying the links between streams and their surrounding forests. Apart from building upon that expertise, this upcoming project will add to recent work by her and Claeson, both of whom have been surveying streams on the Pumice Plain of Mount St. Helens since 2015.

The idea for the project came about after LeRoy and Claeson discovered that the new streams on Mount St. Helens were each developing in different ways, and that riparian trees seemed to strongly influence that development. Along with Fischer, who teaches forest ecology at Evergreen, the group worked to develop a nuanced research question around the topic. Now, those efforts have paid off in the form of a sizeable NSF grant.

Funding from the grant will go toward everything from training, to purchasing equipment, to presenting the results of the study at national and international conferences. In addition, it will support the salaries of the faculty and students involved in the project.

“It is especially exciting to be able to compensate students at Evergreen to participate in this research with us,” said LeRoy.

Receiving a grant from the NSF is no small feat, as such grants are extremely competitive. The fact that the grant was awarded to Evergreen—a small liberal arts school—is a testament both to the quality of LeRoy’s work, and to the strength of Evergreen’s science department as a whole.

“This award is very meaningful because it provides a national audience for our research and demonstrates that the National Science Foundation is interested in funding our innovative science research and undergraduate training at Evergreen,” said Leroy.