2019-20 Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant awards

2019-20 Mathias awards
For his Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant study, UC Santa Cruz graduate student Daniel Hastings will assess water storage in Joshua trees at the NRS’s Burns Piñon Ridge Reserve. The findings will help scientists conserve the species despite forecast drought due to climate change. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu

By Kathleen Wong, UC Natural Reserve System

Joshua trees will be under the gun in the California of the future. Scientists predict that it’ll become too hot and dry for these striking Mojave plants to persist in much its the high desert habitat by 2100. How much water these treelike yucca plants can store at one time is key to their conservation. Daniel Hastings of UC Santa Cruz plans to find the answer with his graduate research at the NRS’s Burns Piñon Ridge Reserve.

This field study, and that of seventeen other University of California graduate students, will be supported by funding from the UC Natural Reserve System’s 2019–20 Mildred E. Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant Program. This year’s recipients come from seven different UC campuses and will pursue their graduate research at a whopping 21 different reserves. Each student will receive up to $3000 to defray the costs of transportation, equipment, and accommodations at one or more of the NRS’s 41 reserves.

A long track record

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 $906,444 to 486 students.

Most of this year’s award recipients will study aspects of ecology. These include an analysis of how forest thinning affects tree and plant communities; an investigation of how native fungal pathogens shape maritime chaparral communities; and how honeybees spread disease among other Southern California pollinators.

2019-20 Mathias awards
Gray-crowned rosy finches breed at a higher elevation than any other bird in North America, making them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Graduate student Tim Brown of UC Santa Cruz will study what makes this bird an alpine specialist. His findings will inform the conservation of mountaintop birds around the world. Image credit: Alan D. Wilson/Wikipedia

Making the most of the NRS

Multiple studies will examine the unexpected affects of a changing climate. These projects include experiments into whether ocean acidification is harming the ability of marine snails to escape predation; whether drought reduces the degree of adaptive variation in wild populations; and how climate variability affects the gray-crowned rosy finch, the highest-elevation breeding bird in North America.

Many projects are also being conducted at multiple NRS reserves. These take advantage of the natural environmental gradient the NRS forms across California, from the coast to alpine mountaintops and from rainy northern forests to southern deserts. Among these is a study of how genetics affect vulnerability and virulence among the chytrid fungus devastating amphibians in California and beyond. The study will sample frogs at nine reserves ranging from Angelo Coast Range Reserve in Mendocino to Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve near Los Angeles.

Projects on other topics include a study testing mechanisms responsible for geological uplift and subsidence near Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center; an examination of the role of organic nitrogen in grassland soil stability at Sedgwick and Angelo reserves; and a biomedical investigation into the effects of high altitude on inflammation at White Mountain Research Center.

2019-20 Mathias awards
A painted lady butterfly sipping nectar from a purple phacelia at Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center. UC Riverside graduate student Nicole Rafferty received a Mathias grant to study the interactions among plants and their pollinators at the reserve from the desert floor to the heights of Santa Rosa Mountains. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu

Preparing 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—invaluable skills for a career in science. The program also encourages students to establish studies on reserves that can become the foundation of their research careers.

Receiving a Mathias Grant signals to other scientists and institutions that a researcher’s work is serious and worthy of funding. Early career support by a Mathias Grant has advanced the professional success of dozens of students over the years.

Aiding UC graduate students

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.

All award recipients are invited to present their findings at the Mildred E. Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant Symposium. Held every three years, the symposium enables students to meet peers, interact with leading field researchers, and discuss career options. The next symposium will be held in 2022 at Bodega Marine Reserve.

Related link

Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant recipients, past and present

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