Fourteen University of California graduate students have been awarded 2015-16 Mildred E. Mathias Graduate Student Research Grants from the UC Natural Reserve System. The students, from six different UC campuses, each received up to $3,000 to fund field projects at 24 different NRS reserves.
Virtually all of this year’s successful proposals will study ecology, evolution, behavior, or other facets of the biological sciences. The exceptions are a project at Angelo Coast Range Reserve examining how bedrock structure and shrinking water supplies affect forest resilience, and a study at Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve analyzing examining how the small scale fishery off the Big Sur coast is affected by social, environmental, economic, management, and ecological influences.
From microbes to marine hypoxia
Six Mathias Grant recipients proposed conducting research at more than one reserve, with one awardee planning to visit as many as eight reserves. One will compare the evolution of herbivore defenses in plants on the mainland versus on Santa Cruz Island Reserve, while will sample species such as mice and spiders across their geographic range. Their use of multiple reserves underscores the importance of having reserves located across the state in a wide variety of habitats and environmental conditions.
While more than half of last year’s winning projects studied climate change impacts, a far smaller proportion plan to do so this year. Among them is a Scripps Coastal Reserve study of how fish cope with low-oxygen conditions in California waters, which are considered side effects of climate warming, and a Valentine Camp study of the potential of pines to migrate upslope in the eastern Sierra.
Two projects this year plan to take advantage of recent or ongoing environmental conditions. At Año Nuevo Island Reserve, one researcher will examine how the foraging patterns of northern elephant seals are affected by El Niño. And the 2015 Wragg Fire inspired another awardee to compare how woodrats and ticks fared in burned Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve versus nearby, unburned Quail Ridge.
Other project topics include bumblebee movements (McLaughlin), the effects of metal contamination on microbe communities (eight reserves), and using water consumed by microbes as an indicator of soil carbon supplies (Hastings, McLaughlin, and Sedgwick Reserves).
Practice for a career in science
The Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant program gives students experience applying for and managing research grants, and reporting on their research progress—skills valuable for many careers in science.
Receiving a Mathias grant demonstrates to other scientists and institutions that a researcher's work is serious and worthy of additional funding. Many previous recipients have said early career support by a Mathias Grant was key to their subsequent academic and professional success.
The Mathias Grant competition is open to UC graduate students who submit a proposal for research to be conducted at one or more NRS reserves. Students from all disciplines are encouraged to apply. Applications are evaluated based on academic merit. Students at an early stage of their careers and in underrepresented fields of study receive preference.
The $38,000 awarded this year comes from the Kenneth S. Norris Endowment Fund for the California Environment, provided to the NRS by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Since its inception in 1988, the Mathias grant program has awarded a total of $791,264 to 429 students.