In the arid Southwestern United States, water is one of the most important and limiting resources. In the past 100 years, the landscape has been altered extensively due to watershed management, hydrological power and agriculture. The resulting environments are drastically different from those of only three generations past, creating landscapes that place different demands and stresses on precious water security in this area. Among the most altered habitats are riparian ecosystems, or habitats along rivers and ephemeral waterways and are among the most endangered habitats in the world.The habitats that have evolved with the precious water balance of this region have been supplanted by aggressive growing species from other parts of the world that have the ability to alter the environment. These invasive plants decrease local biodiversity, change nutrient cycling and can further jeopardize water security as they have greater water use than native vegetation. Further, exotic plants have impacts on the environment that may persist after they have been removed, continuing to impede restoration of native plants. Understanding the succession in these invaded environments is an important component to applying effective management and restoring these native communities to help ensure water availability in these arid habitats were water is so limited.

Cottonwoods are important foundation tree species in riparian ecosystems throughout the western United States, and have been the focal species of important work in the field of community genetics. Findings from the Cottonwood Research Group indicate that genetic differences in individual cottonwood trees echo out to structure what communities of other organisms live on an individual tree. The specific suite of organisms associated with an individual tree can further impact how nutrients are cycled through the ecosystem. Projects aimed at restoring these important foundation tree species also restore native biodiversity and ecosystem function to riparian habitats. Building on this work, I hope to use community and ecosystem genetics to inform restoration of Fremont cottonwoods and help restore these critical watershed habitats.

The Little Colorado River (LCR) Basin near Winslow, AZ (map) provides an important perspective to the study of invasive species and how exotic plants may facilitate the establishment of further non-native plants over native ones. This area has a history of tamarisk (Tamarix sp.) invasion, with the highest densities occurring along stretches of the LCR and its tributaries. These shrubs are very tolerant of high salt conditions, grow well in disturbed areas, and have been shown to disrupt important soil mutualism that native plants, namely Fremont cottonwoods (Populus fremontii) need to grow and establish in the landscape (Meinhardt and Gehring 2011) . These invasive plants therefore have the ability to ecologically engineer the environment to favor further invasive plants that are tolerant of the conditions Tamarix creates.

Fremont Cottonwoods flanking a Tamarisk in bloom.

Among such invasive species gaining a foothold in these environments is camelthorn, Alhagi maurorum, a legume woody shrub originating from the Middle East, and referenced in the Bible as one of the thorny shrubs that plagued farmers. This emerging invasive plant is considered a noxious weed and is among one of the most egregious invasive plants in the areas that it occupies due to its habit of growing in agricultural fields, disturbed areas and even through roads and houses.


My research will endeavor to understand the interactions of Tamarix sp. on further facilitating invasion of camelthorn and how this may impact native vegetation. For my Scifund project, I will be seeking funding to help my fieldwork aimed at quantifying camel thorn abundance in different habitats and collect soil samples for soil microbial analysis. Further I will perform greenhouse studies to test competitive interactions and explore hypotheses related to camelthorn soil interactions. Additionally, I will have the applied component of seeking management solutions for the control of camelthorn in these arid riparian ecosystems and provide resources for camelthorn exclusion and control to management in the Navajo Nation and Navajo county, Arizona where these plants are an emerging invasive threat.

Proposed Research Methods

For the first part of the research project I will be conducting fieldwork at a location along the Little Colorado River 10 miles south of Winslow. This is private land owned by the Jackrabbit Trading Post I have been given permission to do my research (map). I will be quantifying the spatial distribution of camelthorn abundance to answer questions related to where camelthorn grows on the landscape. My field methods and the questions they will answer are found on my fieldwork page.

To answer questions related to root community composition, I will be using microscope and molecular methods to identify bacterial and fungal symbionts.
Alhagi maurorum's associated n-fixing symbionts have never been reported in the literature, so I hope to discern first if this species has N-fixing bacteria in its invasive range, and if so what is the identity using molecular methods.

Also once the field measurements are quantified and patterns discerned, I will be setting up a experiment to removal camelthorn at the Chevelon Common Garden where clippings from Fremont cottonwoods have been planted along with cottonwoods from populations all over the western United States.

Scifund Fundraising Goal: 1200 USD


I am eager to take part in Scifund for the first time. I have many years experience blogging and organizing using social networks, and I appreciate the collaboration and creativity this form of science funding engenders. Like many other young scientists, I have become disillusioned with the standard practice soliciting research funds from government and private organizations, and look forward to exploring new models of funding science. I'm also eager to participate in this accessible form of scientific communication with the public, as I feel it will challenge me to present my research clearly, concisely, and creatively.

The money from my scifunding venture will go towards helping offset costs of fieldwork, molecular supplies and greenhouse space. Further I hope to use the money generated from scifunding to expand my project to have applied implications that can help aid management of this invasive week in a extremely disadvantaged part of the United States. Fieldwork costs will include gas to travel to the site, purchase of pipe to use for quadrants and pin flags. Molecular work costs will include reagents for T-RFLPs, PCR, in house Sanger Sequencing,, and if significant financial contributions are achieved, Pyrosquencing of the root associated communities. Greenhouse space will be rented at the NAU Research Greenhouse facility, and total costs for the experimental set up will be discerned upon completion of field work this May, but will include soil, rented space, and labor for the duration of the experiment.


1-10 USD- Route 66 Button and "Here it Is" Button
15-20 USD- Jackrabbit hot sauce
20-50 USD - Official SciFund Round 2 path tag and Jackrabbit hot sauce
50- 100 USD - "Here it is" Vanity plate
100-300 USD: "Here it is" Vanity plate, Scifund path tag
300-500 USD: "Here it is" Vanity plate, Recognition plate at Chevelon Common garden where this research will be applied

About the Researcher

I hold a Bachelor's of Science from the University of Southern Mississippi and a Master's of Science from the University of Mississippi. My Master's thesis was entitled :"
Characterizing the Ectomycorrhizal Community and Belowground Response to Restoration Treatments in Northern Mississippi". I am now pursing a PhD at Northern Arizona University in the Gehring lab . My research interests include mycorrhizal ecology, plant ecology, restoration ecology and microbial and community genetics. I am a member of the NAU Cottonwood Research group, and also an IGERT and GK12 Fellow.