Science Conversations and Site Review with NSF Program Director

Classic SERC picture. Megan Vahsen, Pat Megonigal, Helena Kleiner, Liz Blood, Haley Kodak, Jason McLachlan (left to right).

On Tuesday, August 6, we had the opportunity to give Liz Blood, the DEB (Division of Environmental Biology) Program Director at NSF, a tour of our Blue Genes marsh experiment at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC).  The day was set up to provide Liz a deeper understanding of our project and specifically our experiment this summer.  It was also an opportunity for us to get feedback from Liz about our project and the priorities of NSF and the DEB program. 

The day started with a tour of the GCREW and Freshwater sites where our experiment is taking place, a visit to the NEON tower (Liz had been a Macrosystems PI and Program Officer for NEON), and then presentations in the afternoon.  Our group included Jason McLachlan – PI at Notre Dame, Pat Megonigal – Associate Director for Research at SERC, Helena Kleiner – SERC Technician, and Haley Kodak and Megan Vahsen – Notre Dame Grad Students. Jenn Summer, Grad Student from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, was also able to call in to provide an overview of her work.

Showing Liz the Drake chambers that have been in use since 1987 at the Global Change Research Wetland (GCREW). The saltwater treatment for our Blue Genese experiment is located at GCREW.

Haley Kodak, Megan Vahsen, and Helena Kleiner (left to right) standing in front of the Freshwater location of our Blue Genes experiment. Helena led the effort to build all the infrastructure (boardwalk, chambers, solar panels, etc) at the Freshwater site.

In a nutshell, our experiment this summer is looking to answer these questions: 

  1. What are the phenotypic consequences of genetic change over time?
  2.  How does (1.) compare to genetic change over space?
  3.  Is there asynchrony in genetic change over time across locations? (ie. interaction between space and time; does the effect size in change over time vary across space?)
  4. How does the  environment influence all of this? (G x E interactions)

To answer these questions, we are using 670 plants germinated from modern (~15 years) and ancestral (~100 years) seeds collected from 5 different sites. The plants are exposed to two salinity levels at the brackish GRCREW site and the Freshwater site and to ambient and elevated carbon dioxide levels.

It was wonderful to be able to show off how we are pulling together ecological processes including plant physiology, community changes, ecosystem processes, and evolution.  It was equally wonderful to hear from Liz. As Jason said, “Liz is very wise. She sees the big picture in science.”  

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