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2022 Top Recipient of the Ann Miller Gonzalez Graduate Research Grant

By Native Plant Society of Texas,  Education Committee

The Native Plant Society of Texas offers grants to Texas university graduate students to support research projects related to Texas native plants or the conservation and restoration of Texas native plant habitats, through the Ann Miller Gonzalez  Graduate Research Grant Program. This research grant is named in honor of an early supporter of Texas native plants. The maximum amount of each grant is $2500 for the duration of the grantee’s research project. 

Congratulations Xinyi Yan!

The Education Committee would like to introduce our 2022 top recipient, winner of a $2500 Ann Miller Gonzalez Grant, Xinyi Yan, PhD candidate, Integrative Biology, The University of Texas at Austin.

Headshot of person with long dark hair, wearing a hat, stands in front of pond
Xinyi Yan, 2022 recipient of the Ann Miller Gonzalez Grant

Xinyi Yan studies Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at The University of Texas at Austin, co-advised by Drs. Caroline Farrior and Amy Wolf. Her research focuses on interactions between plants and soil microbes in a changing world, and how these interactions shape plant coexistence and community assembly. To answer these questions, she uses a variety of approach such meta-analysis, theory, field experiment and soil sequencing.

Under anthropogenic change, the loss of plant diversity and of soil microbial diversity can reenforce each other, and the feedback can have cascading effects on ecosystem functioning. My proposed research aims to help understand the link between Texas native plant diversity and their soil microbial communities. In particular, I aim to answer how plant taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional diversities each influence soil microbial diversity and composition, and how the diversity-diversity links differ under conditions of altered precipitation and biotic interactions. To answer these questions, I use a local field experiment of 12 Texas native plant species with treatments of plant taxonomic diversities, plant phylogenetic diversities, watering, and insect exclusion. I helped collect plant trait data and will sequence soil fungal communities collected from each treatment plots. I will then conduct statistical analysis to explore the relationship between soil fungal diversity (and composition) and the treatments. Results from this project will help elucidate the impact of biodiversity loss and environmental change on plant-microbe interactions, and provide insights on native plant conservation and soil restoration.

2022 Grant Recipients

Additional and previous winners’ bios and research summaries can be viewed at Past Grant Recipients.

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About the Region

New Braunfels, the location of our Fall 2024 Symposium, straddles both the Edwards Plateau Ecoregion and the Blackland Prairie ecoregion. Interstate 35 divides the city of New Braunfels; its path through the city closely parallels the boundary of these two ecoregions, with the Edwards Plateau on the west side and the Blackland Prairies region to the east. The Edwards Plateau area is also called the Hill Country; however, this general term covers a much larger area extending farther north. Spring-fed creeks are found throughout the region; deep limestone canyons, rivers, and lakes (reservoirs) are common. Ashe juniper is perhaps the most common woody species found throughout the region. Additional woody species include various species of oak, with live oak (Quercus fusiformis) being the most common. Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) border waterways. This area is well known for its spring wildflower displays, though they may be viewed in spring, late summer, and fall, as well. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, average annual rainfall in the Edwards Plateau ranges from 15 to 34 inches.

The Blackland Prairie extends from the Red River south to San Antonio, bordered on the west by the Edwards Plateau and the Cross Timbers, and on the east by the Post Oak Savannah. Annual rainfall averages 30 to 40 inches, with higher averages to the east. This region is dominated by prairie species. The most common grass species include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) in the uplands and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) in the riparian areas and drainages. Common herbaceous flowering plants include salvias, penstemons, and silphiums. This area has suffered greatly from overgrazing and agricultural use. Few intact areas remain, though many of the plants can be found along county roadsides throughout the region.

Our four host chapters (New Braunfels, Lindheimer, Guadalupe, and the Hill Country chapters) are located in one or both of the ecoregions above. However, the eastern portion of Guadalupe County also falls within the Post Oak Savanna ecoregion. Annual rainfall averages 35 to 45 inches, with higher averages to the east. A wide variety of hardwood trees are found, including several species of oaks, elms, and in the Bastrop area, loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). Grasses and forbs dominate in the open savannas, with most common grass being little bluestem. Ranching, agriculture, and fire suppression have allowed woody species to encroach on the once-open savannas.

Source: Wildflowers of Texas by Michael Eason