Novus Scientist Exchange Program Site Visits: Drs Heather Alexander and Jill Johnstone

The Novus RCN is pleased to report on the fourth of our eight SEP site visits to be conducted throughout 2015. In May 2015, Dr. Heather Alexander (University of Texas – Brownsville) visited Dr. Jill Johnstone (University of Saskatchewan).

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Dr. Heather Alexander (left) and Dr. Jill Johnstone (right)

The project, titled “Cajander larch seed germination in response to fire-driven variations in soil conditions” assessed the role of post-fire soil conditions on seedling germination of non-serotinous larch and the long-term feedbacks between fire activity, climate change, and species composition in larch forests of Cherskii, Russia. The proposed analysis combined field and laboratory experiments on over 40,000 larch seeds collected by the Northeast Science Station (NSS) in Cherskii. The team planned to develop a robust field- and lab-based methodology for identifying the main factors determining success of post-fire larch seedling germination.

During the visit, the team completed combined field and lab study, to be performed at NSS this summer. This protocol includes field-based approaches such as germination trials using experimental burn plots representing a range of fire intensity, natural seedling regeneration in early-successional stands of larch, and seed traps across a stand density gradient to assess how stand structure drives seed input. The lab-based component includes seed viability tests using x-rays and embryo stains.

The visit also inspired a collaboration between Dr. Alexander and a PhD student in Dr. Johnstone’s lab, Mélanie Jean on moss community dynamics through successional stages of Alaskan boreal forests which will likely result in an additional collaborative publication and dissertation chapter.

In their interaction reports, both participants expressed satisfaction with the Novus SEP program. “It is excellent to have a program aimed at providing the resources to facilitate these interactions, which are hard to fund with targeted research grants” said Dr. Johnstone. And Dr. Alexander concurred, stating “At my current institution, no other scientists work in my field, so I often times feel a bit lonely and intellectually stifled. My ability to seek out other researchers is usually limited by money, so having dedicated support and time to explore collaboration with another scientist was great.”

The Novus RCN is pleased to have sponsored such a successful visit, and we look forward to reading the final publication(s)! Keep an eye on the Novus blog for updates on this and other Novus SEP site visits!

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