Does the personality of a ground squirrel affect its foraging style? Which microbes live in harvester ant guts? What drives the production of Daphnia "superfleas" ?
University of California graduate students aim to answer these natural mysteries and more with funding from the UC Natural Reserve System’s 2017-18 Mildred E. Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant awards. Eighteen students representing all nine of the general UC campuses will receive up to $3000 to fund field projects at 19 different reserves.
Virtually all will study aspects of the biological sciences, from genetics to energetics. The exceptions are a project at Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center studying the anthropology of land use and conservation in an extreme landscape, and a project examining climate controls on the biogeochemistry of phosphorus at White Mountain Research Center.
NRS reserves are in demand sites for field research because landscapes are protected from development over the long term. Reserves can often provide accommodations, equipment, and insights into land use history or species occurrences useful to visiting scientists. Data from past studies offer historical context and a foundation for new work.
Making the most of the system
Several students proposed work at multiple reserves. A researcher studying local adaptations in the California poppy to climate change responses will collect plants from a dozen reserves, while those examining into the life cycle of mussel declines and the evolutionary distribution of carpenter ants on the Channel Islands will sample three and four reserves, respectively.
The ecological impacts of climate change remained a strong theme this year, with four projects pursuing the repercussions of predicted shifts in environmental conditions. Study topics in this area range from how climate change has affected the range of a predatory marine snail, to whether eelgrass can serve as a refuge from acidic ocean water.
Studies involving animal behavior were frequent among this year’s award recipients. These projects include an examination of how dark-eyed juncos distinguish between the songs of local and foreign birds at James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve, the impact of nutrition on bumblebee pollination energetics at Yosemite Field Station, and how elephant seals utilize open ocean productivity at Año Nuevo Island Reserve.
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. Early career support by a Mathias Grant has been key to the subsequent academic and professional success of many 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 other year at an NRS reserve.
The $39,180 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 $830,444 to 448 students.