Celebrating and conserving the ecological richness of California's grasslands

Grassland Research Awards for Student Scholarship (GRASS) 2020

Applications Accepted

November 1

through January 31

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Congratulations to our 2020 Student Researcher Award Recipients

Thanks to the generosity of our donors and supporters, we had the resources to fund six students this year!

Here they are (in alphabetical order):

Roisin Deák, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Advisor: Dr. Nishi Rajakaruna

Project Title: Meadow vegetation trends in relation to fire.

I am Roisin, a first year graduate student interested in the maintenance of plant diversity and how that diversity scales to ecosystem services. I am investigating the effects of wildfire on meadow composition, which captured my interest while working for the US Forest Service Range Monitoring program. While working I observed the conversion of a dry, weedy meadow being encroached upon by forest into a veritable wetland after a severe fire swept through the area. I hope that by examining long term data from burned meadows, I can discern under what circumstances fire promotes the growth of obligate wetland species. I am interested in obligate wetland species in particular, because they have been shown to contribute to watershed resilience. I intend to share my findings with land managers to refine decisions on control burn tactics or restoration efforts. I have been working as a field botanist for the last seven years and am thrilled to return to the meadows this summer!


Justin Luong, PhD Student, Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz

Advisors: Karen Holl & Michael Loik

Project Title: Using management perspectives to improve the ecology of grassland restoration.

I am a 3rd year PhD Candidate in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz researching how to further improve efficacy in implementing coastal grassland restoration projects. I am particularly interested in understanding long-term trends in planted or seeded grassland restoration projects and whether restoration goals sustain years after project implementation. I am also interested in understanding the perspective of restoration practitioners and what is perceived to be the best way to improve future success from the implementation perspective. I really became interested in understanding long term restoration trajectories after working at the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration after finishing my undergraduate degree, where I worked to restore coastal grasslands and vernal pools. Because of the increasing economic investment in restoration, I want to help make restoration as effective as possible.

Brianne Palmer is a PhD candidate in the joint doctoral program with San Diego State University and University of California, Davis.

Supervisors: David Lispon, Valerie Eviner, Rebecca Hernandez. 

Project title: Sources of cyanobacterial inoculum for the recolonization of biological soil crusts in Southern California grasslands.

Brianne is currently studying how biological soil crusts recover after fire in the grasslands of Southern California. Using field work and DNA sequences of the microbial community, she hopes to understand the resiliency of the crusts and their impact on the post-fire landscape.  

Read more about Brianne's research interests - Getting to Know Grassland Researcher: Brianne Palmer, Grasslands, Fall 2018, by Emily Allen



Seth Small, is a Harvey and Lois Watson Scholar and MA Candidate in International Environmental Policy: Natural Resource Policy and Management, Middlebury Institute for International Studies, Monterey, CA.

Project Supervisor & Institution: Dr. Christy Wyckoff, Director of Conservation Science, Santa Lucia Conservancy

Project Title: Measuring Grassland Response to Targeted Grazing on the Santa Lucia Preserve.




Joanna Tang is a PhD student, University of California, Santa Barbara

Advisor: Carla D'Antonio

Project Title: Investigating biotic and abiotic interactions in restored grassland vernal pool communities.

Joanna is researching long-term invasion dynamics in restored urban ecosystems. As a born-and-bred Californian, she is committed to developing innovative restoration techniques that preserve and restore California's unique native communities in the face of widespread exotic invasion.

Daniel Toews,  PhD Student, Environmental Systems, University of California, Merced

Advisor: Jason Sexton

Project Title: The role of soil heterogeneity on adaptation in an endemic vernal pool annual plant Limnanthes douglasii ssp. rosea.

Daniel is advised by Dr. Jason Sexton at UC Merced whose research centers on understanding the vulnerabilities and adaptive responses of plants to a rapidly changing world. Daniel’s research interests are conservation oriented and focused on understanding the patterns of plant diversity and plant adaptation across complex environments. He uses a combination of metagenomics (environmental DNA barcoding) and field experimentation to better understand ecological and biogeographical effects that shape plant diversity and local adaptation in vernal pools wetlands. In between extracting plant DNA from environmental samples or measuring vernal pool plant traits, Daniel works as an environmental consultant and has developed somewhat of an obsession with Neostapfia colusana. He enjoys spending time with my wife and twin boys, botanizing, and mountain biking.

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