Austin Simonpietri - May 2018

My name is Austin Simonpietri, I am currently an undergraduate in the Ecology department studying Conservation Biology and Ecology. This summer I will be working with Dr. Trowbridge, an assistant professor, and Mallory Morgan, a doctoral student in the Department of Land Resources & Environmental Sciences. Mallory and I will be looking at pine tree defenses through a drought continuum of the species Piñon Pine (Pinus edulis). It is common to hear of the effects that bark beetles have on pine species, these interactions are in part driven by the trees ability to defend itself against the bark beetle infestations. One of the mechanisms that a tree uses to defend itself from these attacks is by creating defense chemicals to help deter the bark beetles. The piñon pines have been seen as having increased mortality by bark beetles during and after droughts (Breshears et al. 2005). We are looking to see if the amount and composition of the piñon pines defense chemicals change as the trees experience drought over ten weeks. This could aid in a better understanding of why piñons' mortality rate from bark beetles increase in accordance to drought. The experiment will be taking place in the Montana State University greenhouse throughout the summer with two-year old piñon pines.

I expect this summer's internship to be a solid building block for my prospective career in biology and ecology. This summer's research opportunity will provide a great platform for the application of the topics gone over in classes such as ecology, plant physiology and ecological responses to climate change which I took this spring semester. I expect to be abel to tie in both the lessons I learned in the classroom with the experiment, as well as be introducted to new topics from the experiment itself. The ability to be a part of this research project will allow for invaluable experience in the field of chemical ecology and one of its dynamic systems of plant defenses against pests. I hope to gain perspective on the scientific process performed on a natural system and gain some insight into the techniques used to do this. Even though I have worked in a lab before this experiment I do suspect there to be several unforeseen challenges. A lot of the technical work that I will be doing in the latter half of the experiment will be new to me. With this I expect there to be a learning curve and with the help and expertise of Ms. Morgan and Dr. Trowbridge I imagine that none of these will be too difficult to overcome.

At this point in the experiment we have received all 240 of the piñon pines from the Colorado Forest Service. We have transplanted all the trees (Image 1) in the greenhouse at Montana State. Now we are waiting for the trees to acclimate to their new home and soils for a few weeks before we begin the experiment. Meanwhile I am analyzing chromatograms which gives us an idea of which chemicals are in a given sample. The chromatograms that I am looking at now are from past experiments done by Dr. Trowbridge with other pine trees. I am doing this to gain experience for when I need to analyze the chromatograms of the current experiment with the piñons.

Image 1. Transplanted piñon​ pines in the greenhouse at MSU

Citations: Breshears DD et al. (2005). Regional vegetation die-off in response to global-change-type drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102:15144-15148.


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