Student Field Research, Student Research

Undergraduate Research at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

Annie Schiffer (C’20)

My name is Annie Schiffer, and I am a senior studying biology and environmental sciences in the college. I am currently working on an honors thesis with Dr. Berry Brosi in the Department of Environmental Sciences, studying plant-pollinator networks and community ecology in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Before joining Dr. Brosi’s team, I conducted research in the Emory Human Health Department studying medical ethnobotany and held a position as a naturalist at a nature center in Northern Virginia. I have also volunteered for the Emory Herbarium and completed fieldwork at the Jones Ecological Research Center in Baker County, Georgia.

Although I entered Emory University with the pre-health track in mind, my interests quickly shifted towards botany and ecology. A freshman year professor knew of my interest in botany and recommended the Quave Research Group, a lab group that combines ethnobotany, phytochemistry, and microbiology to develop new drugs from plants. While doing research with the Quave Lab, I discovered my love for fieldwork and realized that I enjoyed the botanical components of the research more than the biomedical components. Through classes and research experiences, I started to explore the realm of plant ecology. When I was given the opportunity to apply for the Brosi Lab, I knew that my interests and pursuits would align better with Dr. Brosi’s research interests, and I applied. Since then, I have primarily worked on analyzing plant fitness data and creating my own study to investigate fitness among pollinator-mediated plant species across several spatial scales.

This summer, I conducted research at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Gothic, Colorado with the Brosi Lab. Every morning we convened in the lab to gather our supplies, including bug nets, glass vials, colored beads, and a soil moisture probe. Because I helped with the pollen limitation experiment and mostly worked with plants, my day was comprised of tagging individuals of our focal species, hand pollinating individuals selected for pollen supplementation, collecting any individuals with expanded ovules, measuring soil moisture, and tracking the phenology of species in a designated area. After visiting two or three sites, we returned to the lab to sort the seeds and enter data. We occasionally encountered problems, such as getting our car stuck in a snowbank and losing tagged individuals to grazing cows, but the experiment ran smoothly, and we collected valuable data.

Although I heard many positive things about RMBL before I arrived, I was still taken aback by the strength of the community. RMBL draws researchers in and makes them fall in love with the traditions, the mountains, and the culture. Because of this, some scientists have returned to Gothic every year for decades. Though these scientists have more experience in the system than anyone else, they welcome everyone who conducts research at RMBL, regardless of their background in research. This sense of inclusion creates a tight-knit community every field season.

Now, back at Emory, I am using the data collected at RMBL for my senior honors thesis in the Brosi Lab. Throughout the fall semester, I will be counting seeds from our focal species, analyzing the data, and beginning to write my thesis. Additionally, I am staying in contact with other RMBL researchers and starting to think about lab managing positions. After learning from a variety of scientists this summer, I have confirmed that plant ecology is my passion, and I hope to work with some of the amazing RMBL researchers in the future.