Hidden plant life intrigues biology student
Outside the Box > > Terry Koontz
By Sari Krosinsky
|Terry Koontz placed first in oral presentations at Annual Research Day. Photo by Sari Krosinsky.
Terri L. Koontz, a graduate student in biology, is studying the hidden life of plants. Her research placed first in oral presentations at the 2005 Annual Research Day, sponsored by the UNM Biology Department.
Koontz planned to become a doctor until she discovered her interest in ecology during an undergraduate internship at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. “I just loved being outdoors, seeing how different groups of organisms interact with each other,” Koontz said.
After completing her bachelor’s at UNM, Koontz worked as a field technician at Sevilleta for four years. Her work there stimulated the germ of her graduate research, which has received funding from several UNM committees and Sevilleta’s Long Term Ecological Research stipend. Her study focuses on the effects of grazers — in this case, jackrabbits and cottontails — and granivores — pocket mice and kangaroo rats — on seed banks at Sevilleta grassland and shrubland sites.
Both types of herbivores can increase seed banks by scratching the ground and creating “safe sites” where seeds can germinate, produce new seeds and disperse these into the seed bank. Grazers can reduce the seed bank by consuming seed-bearing parts of plants like flowers and fruits before they have dispersed into the seed bank, while granivores can reduce it by eating the seeds directly.
The preliminary findings, Koontz said, show that rabbits are having a “mowing effect” on the seed banks, while mice and rats are “doing something in the environment that’s causing the seed bank to increase,” such as creating safe sites through burrowing.
“Most studies look at just the above ground vegetation,” Koontz said, “but a lot of plants are reliant on this part of their lifecycle, the seed bank, so if you don’t look at both you might misinterpret plant communities and their structure. Having a better knowledge of how communities are functioning will allow for more successful land management and restoration practices.”
Koontz is now analyzing the results based on soil samples germinated at UNM’s research greenhouse. Spending time in the greenhouse “is a very Zen experience,” she said.
Koontz completes her degree requirements this summer. She plans to pursue
a Ph.D. and continue research in community ecology.
Another Research Day winner is graduate student Thomas Nowak, second place in oral presentations. Honored for poster presentations were graduate students Ryan Schwarz, Juliana Medeiros
and Andrea Porras-Alfaro,
and undergraduates Ebany Martinez, Samantha Torres
and Jason Jaeto.