Fighting Fire with Flora

It has been a record breaking year for wildfires, with over 900,000 acres burned in Washington alone. This past summer in the Pacific Northwest families went to sleep wondering very seriously if they would need to evacuate before morning. Not all of their prayers were answered. Some abandoned land and possessions. In towns like Wenatchee, WA and John Day, OR people lost their homes and in the dense forests of the Cascades some firefighters lost their lives. Each year the damage done by wildfires grows in this country, and if climate models prove correct, this danger will only increase in the future.

Today the question of what to do with burned over land is deeply divisive in the state of Oregon. The damage wrought by wildfires is especially concerning because it affects both commercial timber stands and protected, often old growth, forest land.

Studying the question of what to do with burned over lands far from Corvallis, Lea Condon get her hands dirty in the deserts of Nevada. In an area called The Great Basin, Lea studies soil crusts, communities of organisms that live right on top of the soil which are important for ecosystem health among the cheat grass and native plant communities of The Great Basin.

Dinner in the works in eastern Nevada

Dinner in the works in eastern Nevada

Mosses and lichens under survey

Mosses and lichens under survey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the field sites were Lea works, raising grazing animals is crucial to local economies. The increasing frequency of destructive wildfires, and the wear and tear on soil crusts caused by large animals grazing, has a disruptive effect on mosses and lichens that are important for maintaining optimal ecosystem health. A graduate student in Oregon State’s Botanty and Plant Pathology department, Lea studies under David Pyke, hoping to discover how these mosses and lichens can be restored after damanging events like wildfires occur.

Lea, moss growth experiment

Lea, moss growth experiment

To learn more about Lea’s story and research, tune in tonight at 7PM PST to 88.7 FM, or stream the show live here!

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About Matt McConnell

Matt McConnell is from Midland, Michigan and received his undergraduate BS in Psychology and Philosophy at Central Michigan University. After graduating he spent several years in North Carolina. Most of this was at UNC working as a medical research lab assistant using mice as model organisms, but some of his work also involved cognitive research with Rhesus Macaques at a Duke University field site in Puerto Rico. Matt currently live in Corvallis, OR where he attends OSU as a graduate student in the History of Science master's program. He is taking Science Education as a related minor, with an emphasis in Free Choice Learning. His interests in History of Science and Science Education meet on the practice of Science Communication. Matt is currently co-host of the weekly radio show 'Inspiration Dissemination', in which graduate students discuss their personal journeys. Inspiration Dissemination is open to all graduate students and airs every Sunday evening at 7pm on 88.7 FM, KBVR Corvallis.

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