Laura Burkle

Dartmouth College, PhD Student

Botany in the mountains!

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in plants.  As a kid, the first thing I noticed about plants is that they sit still.  My parents always kept house plants and rattled off long names, like Philodendron, that I never seemed to be able to remember.  On rainy days, I would watch these immobile house plants, waiting for a flower to open or a leaf to uncurl.  But as you can imagine, that did not happen very often, and as soon as the sun poked through the clouds, I was outside and running!  I love being outside, then and now, watching and learning.

In college, I majored in Biology and Environmental Studies.  I did a senior project studying the photosynthesis of two understory plants during the fall, winter, and spring.  Winter was the most challenging season, shuffling around the forest in the snow, but that is when I knew that I wanted to continue doing field work.  Later in my senior year, I saw a slide show of research happening at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Colorado.  Having spent my whole life thus far in New England, the photos of the snow-capped mountains blew me away! 

The summer after I graduated from college, I packed my bags and headed west for three months as a research assistant at the RMBL studying the pollinators, nectar robbers, and seed predators of Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata).  I have returned almost every summer since then, most recently as a graduate student.  I am interested in communities of plants and animals, and how environmental factors affect the interactions that species have with one another.  I studied how nitrogen addition to the soil influenced plant-pollinator interactions and their reproduction. I found that small amounts of nitrogen addition help many species of wildflowers grow, attract pollinators, and reproduce.  But, when larger amounts of soil nitrogen are available, grasses grow, and grow, and GROW, and outcompete the wildflowers. 

I am finishing my graduate studies this year and heading back to the RMBL to teach a course in Plant-Animal Interactions this summer.  I am excited to share the mountains with a new generation of students.








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