When visiting the Trent Nature Areas this summer, you might spot a group of Biology students and faculty knee-deep in research on the reproduction of hybrid cattail in our wetlands.
Dr. Marcel Dorken and Dr. Joanna Freeland, both Biology professors at Trent, are leading a group of students to investigate whether different types of reproduction give the invasive hybrid cattail an advantage.
“Wetlands in the Great Lakes region, including the Peterborough area, are home to two species of cattails: broad-leafed cattails (Typha latifolia) which are native to the region, and narrow-leaved cattails (Typha angustifolia) which were likely brought here from Europe several centuries ago,” explains Professor Freeland. “These two species often interbreed to form a hybrid cattail (Typha x glauca).”
Professors Dorken and Freeland have been collaborating on research relating to the underlying processes that facilitate wetland invasion by hybrid cattails for several years. With hybridization becoming increasingly common in the plant and animal world, this research provides insight into how processes such as dispersal, reproduction, hybridization, and local adaptation help a new variant to thrive in a particular environment.
Students gaining research experience
This summer, Amanda Whitehead, a research assistant hired through Trent Summer Work Experience Program, and Kimberly Parno, as part of her Conservation Biology co-op placement, are joining the team to investigate how different types of reproduction affect the hybrid plants. The two students will be working closely with Vikram Bhargav, who is completing his final year M.Sc. project on cattail hybrids.
Cattails have both female and male flowers, therefore female flowers can be fertilized by pollen from a different plant, or pollen from the same plant. Fertilization with pollen from the same plant results in an extreme form of inbreeding.
“Last summer, a fourth-year Biology student, Danielle Rock, did an undergraduate thesis project in which she hand-pollinated different cattail species and hybrids in order to generate inbred and outbred seeds,” says Prof. Dorken. “This summer, Amanda and Kimberly are continuing this project by planting cattails grown from Danielle's seeds into a wetland at Trent to monitor their growth in a natural (and often stressful) environment.”
The goal is to compare survival and growth of hybrids and parent species to determine whether hybrids are more resistant to the effects of inbreeding, which could explain why they can outcompete their parental species.
Exploring nature right on campus
With 1,400 acres of land, 11 on-campus Nature Areas and a combination of forests, drumlins, streams, wetlands and open fields, there are no shortage of opportunities for students to conduct research on campus at Trent.
"I just finished my second-year in the Conservation Biology co-op program and I’m looking forward to discovering new parts of campus I haven’t been to yet, like the green houses located in the DNA building and Trent’s science complex,” says Kimberly. “I will take any opportunity to work outside and I think wetlands are a great avenue for exploring the outdoors given their range of biodiversity and complex ecosystem structures.”
The research being conducted this summer will contribute to the management of invasive species like the hybrid cattails, which not only displace native species but also reduce native biodiversity and alter nutrient cycling in wetlands.
"I am very excited to be researching Typha as it allows me to gain hands-on experience within my undergraduate degree as well as contribute to the overall wellbeing of our wetlands,” says Amanda. “I hope this that work will contribute to our knowledge about Typha as we work to understand their impacts onto wetland systems. I feel privileged to be working with Professors Freeland and Dorken who have years of experience and knowledge with Typha."
Trent University’s Biology program has been ranked as one of the top 20 university Biology programs in Canada by Maclean’s University Rankings. Learn more about the program and Trent’s world-class faculty and apply now for fall 2021.