CNGA 2024 Grassland Research Awards for Student Scholarship

Announcing the  CNGA Grassland Research Awards for Student Scholarship (GRASS) Scholars, Class of 2024

Here are the 16 GRASS Scholars for 2024 (in alphabetical order):

Gabriel Abundis

Cal Poly Humboldt

GRASS Scholar 2024

Exploring the impact of photovoltaic cells on microhabitats and plant communities in Coastal California

Read more about Gabriel

I'm Gabriel Abundis, an Air Force veteran now immersed in my third year of studies, majoring in Rangeland Resource Science. Having traversed various landscapes during my service, I was able to experience and foster a profound appreciation for ecosystem management, which fuels my current academic pursuits. My research focuses intently on exploring the intricate dynamics between photovoltaic cells and the delicate coastal California grasslands. I aim to give insight that is crucial for informing future co-use strategies. From the development of native pollinator gardens to implementing managed grazing practices, my research seeks to maximize the ecological benefits of renewable energy installations while minimizing their ecological footprint. By understanding the complexities of solar panel interactions within grassland ecosystems, I hope to contribute to the broader discourse surrounding biodiversity conservation, and restoration.

Jannike Allen

San Jose State University

GRASS Scholar 2024

Prescribed fire behavior in masticated and non-masticated coastal prairie sites experiencing coyote brush shrub encroachment

Read more about Jannike

Jannike (pronounced YON-ick-a) is a MS student in Dr. Kate Wilkin’s Fire Ecology and Management lab at San José State University, studying prescribed fire ecology on the Central Coast. Jannike grew up in California and has also lived in the Pacific Northwest where she obtained a BS in Environmental Science at Portland State University. She has worked on land stewardship and fire resilience issues from multiple angles, including researching the impacts of reburns on Alaska’s boreal vegetation composition, helping carry out prescribed burns in coastal Northern California, and implementing wildfire mitigation programs in the Sierra Nevada foothills. She is interested in conducting research that serves the needs of land stewards and their restoration efforts, and currently focuses on coastal prairie with coyote brush encroachment and maritime chaparral ecosystems. She is enjoying getting to know grasslands, especially when observing fire behavior during prescribed burns in coastal prairies!

Ava-Rose Beech

UC Davis

GRASS Scholar 2023/2024

Impacts of soil multifunctionality on native species diversity and restoration success: Efficacy of strip-seeding and prescribed burning to improve soil characteristics

Read more about Ava-Rose

I am a second year PhD Student in the UC Davis Ecology graduate group studying under Dr. Leslie Roche in the UC Rangelands Lab. My research focuses on harnessing soil ecology to improve drought resilience in rangeland ecosystems. I am specifically excited about understanding how rangeland management practices can help ranchers cope with difficult challenges related to climate change including water scarcity, wildfire, increased temperatures, and invasive species. I am passionate about engaging in both basic and applied research that can have a positive impact for California ranchers and local stakeholders. I also love engaging in science education, community outreach, and working at the intersection of art and science.

Katherine Brafford

UC Davis

GRASS Scholar 2022/2024

Drivers of seed germination and seedling success in medusahead (Elymus caput-medusae) dominated grasslands

Read more about Katherine

I am a PhD Candidate in Dr. Jen Funk's lab in the Ecology Graduate Group and an affiliate of the Center for Population Biology at UC Davis. I am broadly interested in how plant individuals and populations respond to their environment. This current project investigates how Elymus caput-medusae (medusahead), a common, non-native, thatch-producing annual grass, and medusahead thatch alter the soil and ground level environment and what traits allow other species to grow and compete in medusahead stands and thatch. I hope to shed light on how traits relate to community assembly; clarify mechanisms underlying annual grass invasion and grassland restoration management outcomes; re-examine accepted wisdom based on 1960s experiments; and inform future restoration efforts.

Lynn Breithaupt

UC Merced

GRASS Scholar 2024

Monitoring California's Central Valley vernal pool pollinator and plant communities

Read more about Lynn

My name is Lynn Breithaupt. I was born and raised in Stockton, California. I attended San Joaquin Delta College for my A.S. in Horticulture and worked in the greenhouse and nursery industry for years before I decided to continue my education and transfer to CSU Stanislaus. There I received my B.S. in Organismal Ecology and Evolution and received several awards including the outstanding undergraduate researcher of the year, 2022-23. I am now a Ph D. student at UC Merced, working with Dr. Jason Sexton and Dr. Marilia Gaiarsa conducting research on vernal pool and grassland plant-pollinator interactions.

Ernesto Chavez-Velasco

Cal Poly Humboldt

GRASS Scholar 2021/2024

Supporting less commonly used plant species in California grassland restoration by linking functional plant traits with site characteristics

Ian Cooke

San Jose State University

GRASS Scholar 2024

Restoring native coastal prairie through mechanical pre-treatment and prescribed fire

Read more about Ian

Ian Cook is a first-year MS student at San José State University focusing on prescribed fire ecology. After graduating with a BS in Molecular Environmental Biology from UC Berkeley in 2017, he spent several years in parks maintenance throughout the Bay Area. A few deeply unsettling fire seasons, coupled with the wider shift toward more urgent prioritization of fire in land management decisions, led him to pursue prescribed fire research, and he aims to help return beneficial fire to California's landscapes in a way that is proactive, compassionate, and ecologically sound. Ian's current research involves restoring coyote brush-encroached Coastal Prairie grasslands by combining prescribed fires with mechanical pre-treatments. He’s been particularly excited to gain fluency with remote sensing tools to better understand these treatments’ efficacy. Ian is also a devoted cat dad, forager, sci-fi enthusiast, and okay guitarist.

Lauren Glevanik

UC Los Angeles

GRASS Scholar 2024

Assessing impact of seed dispersal on coexistence in Coast California annual grasslands

Read more about Lauren

I am a second-year PhD student with Dr. Nathan Kraft’s lab in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA. I work with annual wildflower and grass species in a serpentine grassland system in Southern California to answer questions about how differential investment in seeds and seed dispersal across species shapes patterns of biodiversity from local to landscape scales. My research integrates empirical data (seed dispersal distances in the field, plant traits) with modeling to investigate how accounting for differences in seed dispersal impacts local community assembly dynamics and landscape-level diversity. This work informs broader applications in range shift modeling, restoration, conservation, and reserve management.

Kenia Gomez

Cal Poly Humboldt

GRASS Scholar 2024

Effect of woody debris on Pleuropogon hooverianus under drought stress

Read more about Kenia

I am a post-baccalaureate student in the Rangeland Resource Science program at Cal Poly Humboldt. Prior to returning to school, I worked as a sustainability consultant where I learned about resource management in the built environment. While working on large-scale waste management studies I became interested in learning about natural resource management. While pursuing my second bachelor’s degree I interned for NRCS Idaho and competed on the Collegiate Soil Judging team. My research project is focused on understanding the ecological conditions which may influence Pleuropogon hooverianus development.

Caitlin Lackey

San Jose State University

GRASS Scholar 2024

Photoload sampling series for Wilder Ranch State Park

Read more about Caitlin

Caitlin is a fourth-year Public Health student in the Wilkin Fire Ecology Lab at San José State University. She is studying fuel load mapping methods of coastal prairies to help predict prescribed fires and wildfires. She is excited to learn how this can help with the conservation and management of coastal grasslands.

Mark Mullinger

University of Vermont

GRASS Scholar 2024

Phylogentics of Melica: Digging into the evolution of bulb-forming grasses

Read more about Mark

Mark is pre-candidacy doctoral student in Plant Biology at the University of Vermont where he's working on the genus Melica as an emerging model system for understanding trait evolution in temperate grasses, i.e. subfamily Pooideae. Mark has previously received a MSc. in the Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants from the University of Edinburgh & the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Before that, he achieved a B.S. in Biology from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. Mark cultivates a broad interest in the evolution of plant forms and functions, with a working focus on grasses, monocots, and geophytes. He also enjoys thinking about landscape-level changes over time and considers himself an amateur paleobotanist. Mark is excited for the opportunity to explore California's grassland ecosystems and observe his study organisms in-situ thanks to this CNGA award.

Andrea Nebhut

Stanford University

GRASS Scholar 2024

Climate-tracking communities enrich the productivity and diversity of remnant California serpentine grasslands at local and regional scales

Read more about Andrea

I am a second-year Ph.D. student at Stanford University Department of Biology, advised by Dr. Tadashi Fukami and Dr. Jeffrey Dukes. My work focuses on the intersection of climate change, plant invasion, and ecosystem functioning, with forays into field and experimental research, analysis of continental-scale datasets, and mathematical modeling. I received my B.S. in Biology and Environmental Studies from Trinity University, where I studied how shortwave UV-B radiation alters plant pigmentation, and my M.S. in Forestry and Natural Resources from Purdue University, where I studied the impacts of invasive plants on their recipient communities. Currently, I am using serpentine grassland mesocosms as a model system to understand how competitive outcomes are shaped by the traits of the competitors and the climatic environment in which they compete.

Peter Nguyen

UC San Diego

GRASS Scholar 2024

Integrated mechanistic prediction of ecological and evolutionary responses to increasing aridity across the range of Eschscholzia californica, California poppy

Read more about Peter

Hello! I am a first-year PhD student in the Sexton Lab at the University of California, Merced, in the Quantitative Systems Biology Graduate Group. My research focuses on landscape genetics—specifically, with Eschscholzia californica, the California poppy. As part of the California Conservation Genomics Project (CCGP), we sequenced an improved chromosome-level genome assembly for E. californica to explore its genetic adaptability under increasing aridity due to climate change. My ongoing research focuses on identifying gene variants indicative of natural selection in response to drought and increasing aridity, significant challenges posed by global climate change in California. A key aspect of my work involves assessing areas within the species' range that exhibit high genetic diversity and effective population sizes, which will aid in predicting potential climate change adaptation. Furthermore, I integrate common garden experiments and field-based demographic assessments to evaluate plant traits systematically.

Sophie Noda

UC Davis

GRASS Scholar 2024

Burn pile recolonization dynamics in a coastal prairie restoration site

Read more about Sophie

I am a Master's student in the Eviner Lab at UC Davis interested in the factors that dictate the establishment of Baccharis pilularis (coyote brush), a species of management interest in coastal prairies because of its ability to drive succession and reduce coastal prairies in the absence of disturbance. I am studying how different densities of native grass seeding affect coyote brush establishment in burn pile scars where coastal prairie is being restored in coastal Marin County. I also work for Point Blue Conservation Science as an ecologist in the Working Lands Group, where my focus is a project called the Rangeland Monitoring Network that monitors birds, plants, and soils as ecological feedbacks for management.

Jessica Solis

San Francisco State University

GRASS Scholar 2023/2024

Investigating the Impact of Wildfire Disturbance and Microclimate on Carbon and Water Fluxes in

a Coastal Fog-Influenced Grassland Ecosystem

Read more about Jessica

Hi! My name is Jessica Solis, and I am a Master's student at San Francisco State University majoring in Geography: Resource Management and Environmental Planning. My research focuses on studying the effects of microclimate and wildfire disturbance on carbon and water vapor fluxes in a coastal grassland situated at Swanton Pacific Ranch in Santa Cruz County. I aim to advance our comprehension of vegetation recovery post-fire and the related carbon dynamics that play a crucial role in enhancing climate-adaptive land management practices.

Rebecca Wynd

UC Davis

GRASS Scholar 2024

Native forb response to grazing and fire disturbances in a California grassland

Read more about Rebecca

Rebecca is a first year MS student at UC Davis, researching how disturbances such as grazing and fire influence the abundance and composition of native forbs in grassland ecosystems – a group of plants critical for grassland health and resilience! She comes to Davis with five years of experience working in tidal wetland habitat restoration in the Bay Area, and two years of experience as a field botanist throughout the state of California. She is excited to bring her passion for botany and restoration to California grassland ecosystems and connect with others who have knowledge of these systems.

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