Celebrating and conserving the ecological richness of California's grasslands

Grassland Research Awards for Student Scholarship (GRASS) Class of 2021

Applications Accepted

November 1

through January 31

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Congratulations to our 2021 Student Researcher Award Recipients

The applications were so good that we needed to fund all 12 student research projects in 2021. 

Here they are (in alphabetical order):

Gregory Arena, UC Berkeley

2021 GRASS Recipient

Advisor: Todd E. Dawson, Dept. of Integrative Biology

Project Title: Impacts of shade on the reproductive success and vigor of Stipa pulchra.

I'm a first year PhD student studying plant physiological ecology at UC Berkeley. Having grown up in rural Humboldt County, a primary focus of my research are those questions that can inspire solutions for the challenges facing our environment as well as agrarian spaces. After graduating with a major in Biology from UC Berkeley in 2016 I spent four years working in vegetation ecology at Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore. Whether pulling weeds or mending fences I spent much of those days a witness to the subtle dynamics of the coastal prairies and pasturelands that span Marin County. An immersion in these systems and employment in land management led to my investigation of the relationships between encroaching woody plants and native and introduced grasses in the North Bay. Spurring further questions about community interactions, succession and the physiological underpinnings that define these coastal grasslands, my experiences and interests in coastal grasslands have inspired my pursuit of a graduate degree. 



Nora Bales, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

2021 GRASS Recipient

Advisor: Dr. Yasmina Pressler, Assistant Professor, Soil Science & Restoration Ecology

Project Title: Investigating restoration potential of grassland habitat associated with Chlorogalum purpureum var purpureum, a threatened plant on California's Central Coast

I am a 1st year MS student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo researching the specific biotic and abiotic habitat requirements of Hooveria purpurea var. purpurea (purple amole), a rare grassland plant found on California’s Central Coast. In particular, I am investigating the link between purple amole and biological soil crusts. With my research, I hope to better inform purple amole management and conservation practices. In addition to my master’s studies, I am a botanist with the California Military Department and manage purple amole in the largest of its four populations.

Ernesto Chavez- Velasco, UC Santa Cruz

2021 GRASS Recipient

Advisors: Justin Luong, Karen Holl, and Michael Loik

Project title: Does coastal fog interact with drought to affect plant water use and endophytic symbioses in California's coastal prairies?

I'm a 4th year Environmental Studies student, with a concentration in Conservation Science and Public Policy at UC Santa Cruz. I am interested in the conservation and restoration of California grassland ecosystems. I am especially passionate about land management and creative approaches to work with complex systems. 





Rosie Deak, is a second year Ph.D. student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

2020 and 2021 GRASS Recipient

Advisor: Dr. Nishanta Rajakaruna

Project Title: Meadow vegetation trends in relation to fire

I am Roisin, a second 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 eight years and am thrilled to return to the meadows this summer!

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Madison Fedor, Undergraduate Student in Environmental Science, UCLA

2021 GRASS Recipient

Advisor: Elihu Gevirtz, Channel Islands Restoration

Project Title: A comparative study of western meadowlark songs on the Channel Islands and Mainland of Southern California and implications for prioritization of grassland conservation and management

I’m Maddie, a second-year undergraduate at UCLA pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Science with a minor in Conservation Biology. I am very excited to begin my first ecological research project this summer with Elihu Gevirtz and Channel Islands Restoration, comparing Western Meadowlark songs between the Channel Islands and the Santa Barbara County mainland populations. Through this opportunity I will be gaining valuable experience with ecological field work methods, providing me with a strong foundation to pursue a graduate education in conservation and restoration of biodiversity.


Robert Fitch, UC Santa Barbara

2021 GRASS Recipient

Advisor: Carla D'Antonio, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology

Project Title: The effects of fuel manipulation and prescribed fire temperature on seed banks in a California grassland

I am Robert Fitch, a third year PhD student studying how native plants can be used to meet wildfire management goals and promote native ecosystem services. I work directly with the US Forest Service and I hope to continue to make similar partnerships throughout my career linking the applied world with academia. My interests span restoration, invasive species management, and fire ecology. I have had the privilege of studying plant ecology across Southern California and have worked in Hawaiian dry forests restoring rare and endangered plant species. I decided to purse my doctorate in ecology because I am passionate about applying scientific theory and principles to solve real world problems. My goal is to have my own restoration ecology lab at a California state university where I can engage with research and teach undergraduates.

Raphaela E. Floreani Buzbee is a first year PH.D. student at UC Berkeley

2021 GRASS Recipient

Advisor: Dr. Davis Ackerly, Dean Rausser College of Natural Resources

Project Title: Exploring species distribution models for biodiversity conservation in California coastal prairies


Rebecca Ann Nelson, Graduate Group in Ecology, UC Davis

2021 GRASS Recipient 

Advisor: Susan Harrison

Project TitleThe effects of invasion and restoration on pollinator visitation for California native grassland plants


I am a first year PhD student in Professor Susan Harrison’s lab in the Graduate Group in Ecology at UC Davis with an emphasis in integrative ecology. I am studying how invasive species and restoration strategies affect the structure and dynamics of plant-pollinator mutualisms in California grasslands. My project examines the extent to which hairy vetch (Vicia villosa), an invasive legume, competes with native California wildflowers for pollinators. Through this research, I aim to inform the restoration of plant-pollinator interactions in northern California grasslands. I am broadly interested in researching what strategies are effective for restoring grassland plant-insect interactions in the context of anthropogenic global change. I hope to foster partnerships between the applied and academic spheres of restoration ecology. I enjoy birding, nature photography, and creative writing.  

 



Landin Noland , Senior, Graduate Group in Ecology, UC Davis

2021 GRASS Recipient

Advisor: Valerie Eviner

Project Title: Chaparral Decline with short fire return interval: Promising habitat for native grassland species?


I am Landin, a graduating senior at UC Davis interested in contemporary land management challenges presented by fire in California’s ecosystems. I am joining Valerie Eviner’s lab next year to pursue a MS in Ecology at UC Davis. I am particularly interested in post-fire management and restoration opportunities to maintain healthy and resilient landscapes. I hope to improve our understanding of California’s changing fire regime and its impacts on native ecosystems so that we make fire informed management decisions on the landscape. I am now assessing an uncharacteristically short fire return interval in Northern California’s chaparral system to understand the resiliency of chaparral systems to frequent fires, and the restoration opportunities for native grassland species within the frequently burned system.

Suzanne Ou , Ecology, Stanford University

2021 GRASS Recipient

Advisor: Dr. Kabir Peay

Project Title: How do microbe-mediated plant-soil feedbacks affect turnover of California annuals?

Suzanne Ou is a PhD Candidate studying the temporal dynamics of plant-soil feedbacks. Using a mix of field work, greenhouse experiments, molecular sequencing techniques and theoretical modelling, she is working to develop a better understanding of the ecology of native species on the unique serpentine grasslands of California.




Joanna Tang is a PhD student, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara

2021 GRASS Recipient

Advisor: Carla D'Antonio

Project Title: Ecotypic variation in Southern California grassland vernal pool communities.

Joanna Tang is currently a PhD student studying under Dr. Carla D'Antonio at UCSB, where she is researching long-term invasion dynamics in restored urban ecosystems, specifically, grassland vernal pools.  As a born-and-bred Californian, she is committed to developing innovative, holistic restoration techniques that preserve and restore California's unique native communities in the face of widespread exotic invasion, for the benefit of Californians now and into the future.


Leila Wahab, is a 3rd year Ph.D. Student in the Environmental Systems Graduate Group, University of California, Merced

2021 GRASS Recipient

Advisor: Dr. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe

Project Title: The role of organic nitrogen compounds in soil organic matter stability: Changes in soil chemistry and plant communities due to altered precipitation regimes in California grasslands



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