Plant Adaptation to Stressful Environments | Pepperdine University | Seaver College

Plant Adaptation to Stressful Environments

First-Year Student as Scholars Seminar

Dr. Stephen Davis, Distinguished Professor of Biology, Pepperdine University

Santa Monica Mountains photo by Steve Davis

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The primary goal of this course is to provide students a fundamental understanding of the process by which science advances our understanding of the natural world and the validity of an empirical approach to knowing and learning. This course investigates the relationship of plants to California's stressful environment. We who chose to live at the urban-wilderness interface of the Malibu campus of Pepperdine University also chose to live with recurrent wildfire and summer drought as natural ecosystem processes. We must not only respect the destructive capacity of wildfire but also learn to appreciate the benefits of fire. Many indigenous species of plants are "fire dependent" -- their seeds do not germinate and they do not thrive without fire. Some seeds only germinate after detecting smoke from burning wood. Many species vigorously resprout after shoots are incinerated.

From an ecological perspective, local ecosystems are not destroyed by fire but require fire for renewal and rejuvenation. Wildfire increases plant vigor, promotes recycling of nutrient resources, increases biodiversity, diminishes exotic weeds, and favors productivity. The services rendered by the native plants that carpet the hillsides above the Pepperdine campus are numerous and are provided at low cost to humans. These native plants deter soil erosion, increase slope stability, return soil water to the atmosphere, provide cover and food for wild animals, are aesthetically pleasing, offer recreational activities, yet require no irrigation, pruning, or fertilizer. All of these benefits are now being threatened by intensified environmental stress brought about by anthropogenic climate change.

Students in this course will examine the effects of climate change on native plant survival and potential shifts in plant community structure now in progress.

Historic Drought

Learn more about Wildfires

Examples of Student Research

Presentations by Undergrads at Scientific Conferences in 2015

Students denoted by *

*Holmlund, H.I., V.M. Lekson*, B.M. Gillespie*, N.M. Nakamatsu*, A.M. Burns*, J. Pittermann, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Ferns living on the edge: Differential traits for survival during California's historic drought. 100th Annual Meeting Ecological Society of America. Abstract OOS 75-9.

Venturas, M. E.D. MacKinnon, H.L. Dario*, A.L. Jacobsen, R.B. Pratt, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Differential mortality in chaparral species during California's 2014 historic drought is related to life history and hydraulic traits. 100th Annual Meeting Ecological Society of America. Abstract OOS 75-8.

*Burns, A.M., N.A. Nakamatsu*, V.M. Lekson*, H.I. Holmlund*, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Novel seed germination in response to California's historic drought may deplete soil seed banks. 100th Annual Meeting Ecological Society of America. Abstract PS 77-172.

*Lekson, V.M., H.I. Holmlund*, A.M. Burns*, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Comparative foliar water uptake and leaf hydrophobicity among eight speices of California ferns. 100th Annual Meeting Ecological Society of America. Abstract PS 77-186.

*Aquirre, N.M., S.B. Nelson*, A.N. Davis*, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Root hydraulic conductance in Malosma laurina experiencing severe dieback in the Santa Monica Mountains. Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research Abstract OS-1-10:00.

*Sauer, K., H.I. Holmlund*, V. M. Lekson*, N. M. Nakamatsu*, A.M. Burns*, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Seedling mortality of Ceanothus megacarpus in response to drought conditions in the Santa Monica Mountains. Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research. Abstract OS-1-9:45.

*Holmlund, H.I., V.M. Lekson*, B. M. Gillespie*, N. M. Nakamatsu*, A.M. Burns*, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Contrasting water utilization patterns in ferns during California's historic drought. Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research. Abstract OS-1-9:30.

*Lekson, V.M., H.I Holmlund*, G.N. Palmeri*, S.R. Reese*, N.M. Nakamatsu*, A.M. Burns*, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Island versus mainland ferns: fog acquisition during California's historic drought. Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research. Abstract OS-1-10:15.

*Taylor, M.K., A.J. Borgas*, F.J. Morales*, E.R. Pierce*, G.N. Palmeri*, S.R. Reese*, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Recent dieback in a keystone chaparral species is caused by a fungal pathogen (Botryosphaeria dothidea). Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research Abstract PS-1-36.

*Speece, T.M., A.M. Evans*, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Premature seed germination and high mortality in Adenostoma fasciculatum caused by severe drought in California. Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research Abstract PS-2-8.

*Gilderman, G.S, K.E. Sauer*, G.N. Palmeri*, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Extensive dieback in Malosma laurina in coastal exposures of the Santa Monica Mountains associated with unprecedented drought in California. Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research. Abstract PS-3-23

*Lekson, V., H. Holmlund*, A. Burns*, and S.D. Davis. 2015. Seasonal comparative foliar water uptake and leaf hydrophobicity among eight species of southern California ferns the 40th Annual West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference Program, April 25th 2015. Abstract S18-34.

Select Recent Publications in Plant Ecology by Undergraduate Students

Students denoted by *

 

*Holmlund, H.I., V.M. *Lekson, *B.M. Gillespie, *N.A. Nakamatsu, *A.M. Burns, *K.E. Sauer, J. Pittermann, S.D. Davis. 2016. Seasonal changes in tissue water relation for eight species of ferns during historic drought in California. (In review).

Pausas, J, R.B. Pratt, J. Keeley, A. Jacobsen, A. Ramirez, A. Vilagrosa, S. Paula, I. Kanekua-Pia*, S.D. Davis 2016. Towards understanding resprouting at the global scale. New Phytologist 209:945 - 954.

Venturas, M.D., E.D. MacKinnon, *H.L. Dario, A.L. Jacobsen, R.B. Pratt, S.D. Davis. 2016. Chaparral shrub hydraulic traits, size, and life history types related to species mortality during California's historic drought of 2014. (In review).

Pratt, R.B., A.L. Jacobsen, *A.R. Ramirez, *A. M. Helms, *C.A. Traugh, M.F. Tobin, *M. Heffner, S.D. Davis. 2014. Mortality of resprouting chaparral shrubs after a fire and during a record drought: physiological mechanisms and demographic consequences. Global Change Biology, 20: 893-907.

*Ishibashi, C.D., *A.R. Shaver, *D.P. Perrault, S.D. Davis, and R.L. Honeycutt. 2013. Isolation of microsatellite markers in a chaparral species endemic to southern California, Ceanothus megacarpus (Rhamnaceae). Applications in Plant Sciences 1(5):1200393.

*Ramirez, A.R., B.R. Pratt, A.L. Jacobsen, and S.D. Davis. 2012. Exotic deer diminish post-fire resilience of native shrub communities on Santa Catalina Island, southern California. Plant Ecology 213:1037-1047.

Pepperdine students present poster

Pepperdine students in front of poster

Pepperdine student in field studying ferns