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UW Student Earns Vegetation Science Award

August 1, 2018
woman standing beside a chart
UW doctoral student Alice Stears recently received the Ton Damman International Award for her poster presentation at the annual meeting of the International Association for Vegetation Science in Bozeman, Mont. (Daniel Laughlin Photo)

A University of Wyoming Ph.D. student had her work recognized at an international symposium last week.

Alice Stears, who grew up in Sheridan and Laramie, won the Ton Damman International Award for her poster presentation at the annual meeting of the International Association for Vegetation Science (IAVS) in Bozeman, Mont.

Stears presented preliminary results from her first year of work on her dissertation within UW’s Department of Botany. Her project identifies plant traits to predict tolerance to drought.

“It was a great opportunity to meet people from around the world in lots of different stages of their careers,” Stears says. “It was important and meaningful to hear positive and negative feedback from them on my project. After a long summer of fieldwork, it was refreshing to hear their new ideas. I look forward to incorporating their thoughts into my research.”

Stears specifically sought to determine if leaf osmotic potential and leaf dry matter content could predict survival rates in response to annual climate variation. Her research, conducted north of Greeley, Colo., on shortgrass prairie, found that both are relatively easily measurable traits and are good indicators of drought tolerance. Her next steps include identifying multidimensional trait combinations that optimize survival in drought years and testing these relationships in different vegetation types and species pools.

“As the West experiences more intense and prolonged droughts, it is important to understand how these affect ecosystem dynamics,” says Daniel Laughlin, associate professor of botany and Stears’ adviser. “Alice’s Ph.D. research is testing which plant traits can predict survival in drought, and her poster clearly showed that low leaf osmotic potential and high dry matter content positively affect plant survival in drought years. It was great to see Alice’s research being recognized by the International Association for Vegetation Science.”

The IAVS is a worldwide union of scientists and others interested in theoretical and practical studies of vegetation: its composition and structure, history, classification, distribution, ecology, dynamics, management and uses in the landscape.

IAVS goals are to facilitate personal contacts among vegetation scientists all over the world and to promote research in all aspects of vegetation science and its applications. The organization holds meetings and excursions, sponsors publications and provides mechanisms for vegetation scientists to communicate with each other and the world at large.

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