Biology Student Receives Undergraduate Research Presentation Award


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Susie P. Gonzalez
susie.gonzalez@trinity.edu
210-999-8445
Jan. 30, 2013

Biology Student Receives Undergraduate Research Presentation Award


Research on invasive grass recognized by the Texas chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration


Claire Afflerbach's research on invasive grass was recognized by the Texas chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration
Claire Afflerbach, right, and Ryan Rabat '12 sort and process harvested plant roots as part of their research on invasive species.

SAN ANTONIO - Trinity University senior Claire Afflerbach aspires to be a veterinarian but over the last two years has spent much of her free time as an undergraduate in the research lab of ecologist Kelly Lyons, associate professor of biology. They, along with other undergraduate student research colleagues, are investigating the competitive dynamics between native and invasive grasses in Texas -work that led to Afflerbach receiving an award.

Originally from Austin, Afflerbach is majoring in biology with a minor in biomathematics.  She was the recipient of the 2012 Best Undergraduate Presenter Award by the Texas chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration. Her presentation was titled "The influence of mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen on competition between native and invasive perennial grass species," and is co-authored by Lyons and Eddy Kwessi, assistant professor of mathematics,  plus undergraduate researchers Ryan Rabat and Katherine Banick. 

Claire Afflerbach's research on invasive grass was recognized by the Texas chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration Undergraduate research has a long tradition at Trinity and solid research is often rewarded with trips to regional, national, and international meetings where the work can be communicated to larger audiences.  In the spring of 2011, Afflerbach joined three other Trinity students at a conference of the Weed Science Society of America in Waikoloa, Hawaii, to make a similar presentation to the one for which she received an award.  This February, five students will accompany Lyons to the same meeting in Baltimore. "Dr. Lyons secured a grant that paid for everything for the trip to Hawaii, including food," said Afflerbach. "I feel so fortunate, at Trinity, to have these opportunities that would normally go to a graduate student at a larger university."

The "one-on-one" with Lyons is what Afflerbach said highlighted her research experience at Trinity.  "Dr. Lyons is a great role model," Afflerbach said.

"Conference attendees in Hawaii were really impressed with the work of my students and were surprised to learn that they were undergraduate researchers," Lyons said, adding that her research program is funded by grants from the United States Department of Agriculture program for the study of Weedy and Invasive Species in Agronomic Ecosystems and an interdepartmental award from the National Science Foundation Program for Integrated Research in Biomathematics

Lyons, who studies grassland ecosystems with an eye toward rangeland restoration, says a dominant species known as KR Bluestem (Bothriochloa ischaemum) was first planted across Texas and the Midwest to improve degraded rangelands and prevent soil erosion. In time, it became an invasive pest, reducing native biodiversity and lowering rangeland forage value. Plants compete for limited nutrients and Lyons and her student researchers aim to determine how nutrients and microbes, like the mycorrhizal fungi, mediate the relationship between native and exotic, invasive species.