2017 Dan Montgomery Award Recipient Emily Mydlowski
The Department of Biological Sciences at Boise State University is pleased to announce that Emily Mydlowski has been selected as this year’s recipient of the Dan Montgomery Graduate Student Award. This award is given annually to a deserving graduate student conducting research-based graduate studies in the biological sciences.
Increased wildfire frequency in the Great Basin has resulted in the conversion of native sagebrush-steppe habitat to semi-arid grassland, a habitat favorable to Owyhee harvester ants – voracious granivores (seed predators) with a predilection for small, nutritious seeds. Emily’s research aims to quantify the impact of seed predation by harvester ants on seed recruitment in slickspot peppergrass, a federally threatened plant endemic to Southwestern Idaho. Her research will also examine the broader, landscape-level effects of granivory by harvester ants on plant communities. To accomplish these objectives, Emily is conducting a controlled ant-removal experiment at a site near Melba, Idaho. Half of the 32 colonies she selected for study in 2016 were treated with Amdro®, a commercially available pesticide. Data collection in 2017 will focus on measuring the effects of ant colony removal on: (1) the availability and identity of seeds on the ground within the foraging range (i.e., 10 m) of ant colonies, and (2) the composition and coverage of vegetation located surrounding ant colonies within this same range. Emily predicts that ant-removal will have a strong, positive effect on the availability of slickspot peppergrass seeds, as previous studies have shown that these ants have a strong affinity for these seeds. More generally, Emily predicts that small-seeded species such as slickspot peppergrass, Sandberg’s bluegrass, Idaho fescue, and tall tumblemustard will show disproportionate losses in coverage and seed availability compared to large-seeded species such as cheatgrass. If successful, targeted control of ant colonies could be employed as an effective conservation tool to increase the local seed-bank and recruitment of slickspot peppergrass, and to enhance the success of seed introduction efforts to create or augment slickspot peppergrass populations. Results from the study could also be relevant to restoration efforts aimed at reducing the effects of granivory on native plants in habitats undergoing restoration after rangeland fires.
Emily is in her first year of graduate studies at Boise State University under the guidance of Dr. Ian Robertson. She earned a B.S. Biology degree with an emphasis in Plant Ecology at Northern Michigan University in 2015. Soon after her arrival at BSU, Emily became involved with Biology Graduate Student Association, a group that aims to provide graduate students with collaborative opportunities in research, improved presentation skills, and constructive feedback on projects and course assignments. Emily also reached out to BSU’s McNair Scholars Program to share her experiences as a McNair scholar at Northern Michigan University. Emily currently serves as a teaching assistant in General Biology II (diversity life). She is passionate about teaching and thrives off other students’ enthusiasm and curiosity. In time she would like to mentor undergraduate student research, and inspire undergraduate students to pursue careers in biology. Upon completion of her Master’s degree, Emily sees herself working initially as a university instructor or as a naturalist at a nature center or preserve. Ultimately, she plans to seek out a doctoral program where she can further explore terrestrial plant ecology in the northern Great Lakes region.