Austin Simonpietri - July 2018

A few setbacks but back on track, that is what the past month of work has entailed. The piñon pines that we received from a nursery and transplanted did not take well and the majority have died before the experiment could get underway. What the nursery believes to have been the cause of this is due to strange winter weather events they had, because they had a similar die off of their stock of 2-year old piñons. With no piñons to order we have switched to ponderosa pine trees, which experience similar maladies (drought, bark beetle kill) as the piñons so it is a good substitute for the same experimental design. With the ponderosas ordered we have potted them and allowed them to acclimate to greenhouse life, this has pushed back the experiment a little further and will likely have us collecting data until early October. This has been a good lesson on what it can be like to work with living organisms as this certainly was not something we expected or planned for. No matter how well prepared we believed we were to begin the experiment we were unable to due to the health of the organisms that we were going to test on, a stark reminder on how unpredictable nature can be. Now we will go forward with the experimental procedures as planned but with ponderosas as the main focus of the experiment and supplement a few weeks with the few healthy piñons to get preliminary data for future experiments with piñons. We will be adding one more layer to the experiment by spraying the trees with methyl jasmonate at three different time points of drought. Methyl jasmonate induces trees defense responses and simulates insect herbivory without harming the tree. This will allow us to see both the ponderosas response to drought as well as drought and herbivory.    

This summer's research has given me insight into both the world of chemical ecology and ecological research. Some of these insights include the reminder that we are working with living organisms so there will be some unpredictability. As well as the amount of work and time to not only do the experiment but also set it up. Experimental set up for me was easily overlooked when beginning the summer. To bring together all the different parts of the experiment and form a good procedure that includes everything is not a quick and easy task. These two takeaways have been big for me but there are definitely several others that come to mind and there will be many more in the weeks to come I am sure. Ultimately this ecology lab work has influenced my curiosity of the intricacies of nature that can be exposed with good science. I most certainly will be looking further into work in this or similar fields. The greenhouse experiment was a great way to begin with its controlled environment and get my foot in the door with ecological experiments.

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