ICN Graduate student researches microscopic pioneers of ecosystem succession

Wildfire is a common and prominent force that is constantly reshaping ecosystems in the Northern Rockies. The response of various species to wildfire has been heavily studied and is relatively well-understood. However, interactions among species after fire is a somewhat overlooked area of research. 

Over the summer 2014, Greta Hoffman, a junior studying biology at UM, investigated the interactions of plants and pollinators (bees) in the Coal Creek State Forest area near Glacier National Park. She also incorporated data collected by other field crews in Paradise Valley and Helena National Forest. Her advisors are Laura Burkle (Ecology, MSU) and Travis Belote (The Wilderness Society). 

According to Hoffman, specialist bee species such as Anthopora porterae, Ashmeadiella bucconis, and Megachile brevis tend to focus their foraging efforts on a few specific plant species. Anthophora ursina, Ashmeadiella cactorum, and Megachile policaris are generalist pollinators and commonly pollinate whatever flowers are available. When bees pollinate a flower, many pollen grains usually remain on their bodies. In the lab, Hoffman stained and analyzed the pollen grains using a microscope, allowing her to identify the plant species that each individual pollinator species had visited and therefore estimate the average fidelity of each species. By comparing these values across wildfire gradients, she could identify plant-pollinator interaction patterns that arise in response to fire in terms of foraging habits and species abundance.

Hoffman said Nature has always fascinated her so she couldn’t be more excited to spend her summer outside in the beautiful Montana wilderness. In her free time she likes to hike, read, backpack, and camp.

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