For many years, the Lytle Preserve was an operating ranch and farm, raising cattle as well as various crop plants ranging from stone fruits and apples to alfalfa and melons. Today, in keeping with the original nature of the preserve, limited amounts of fruits and alfalfa are still produced. However, in keeping with the Lytle’s mission statement the preserve is now home to several active, long term, externally funded research projects. In this section of the Lytle webpage you can learn about the projects now using the Lytle as a research base. The unique biological, topographical, and ecological attributes of the preserve combine to create an oasis in the desert ideally suited to asking important ecological questions. Take a look!
Studying Wildfire Effects in the Mojave Desert (Sam St.Clair, Brock McMillan, Zach Aanderud, and Steve Peterson)
Recent studies show that the Mojave Desert region may be at a tipping point between a fire regime, which has historically been characterized by patchy, small fires to one of continuous, large fires. It is hypothesized that dramatic increases in non-native annual grasses (e.g., Bromus and Schismus spp.) are producing continuous fine fuel beds that appear to be driving an invasive plant/fire cycle in the Mojave Desert ecosystem. Changes in the fire regime would represent a new selection force that has the potential to drastically alter the structure and function of native Mojave Desert shrublands. At the Lytle Ranch Preserve, Drs. Sam St.Clair, Brock McMillan, Zach Aanderud, and Steve Peterson of Brigham Young University's Plant and Wildlife Science Department (College of Life Sciences) are examining factors that contribute to the emergence of invasive plant/fire cycles and the ecosystem-level consequences of these changes. This project is currently funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior (BLM) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture with logistical support provided by the Bean Life Science Museum's Lytle Ranch Preserve in Washington County, Utah.
Research project update – May 2012
In June of 2011 we initiated several field experiments with construction of small mammal exclosures, 10 independent controlled burns and construction of the rainout shelters in a factorial design. Our watering treatments include 30% above ambient precipitation to simulate El Nino years and 30% reduction typical of drought years and drier conditions projected in future climates. We have just recently started collecting data from our field plots.
Bio-control of Invasive Grasses in the Mojave Desert (Phil Allen)
Competition from annual bromes (cheatgrass and red brome) is a major obstacle to post-fire seeding success in arid ecosystems. Because currently available control methods fail to eliminate the annual brome carryover seedbank, we are examining the native fungal pathogen Pyrenophora semeniperda as a bio-control organism to eliminate these carryover seeds. Studies completed so far have shown that:
- Isolates of the fungus vary widely in virulence. Virulence variation is negatively correlated with growth rate in culture.
- This variation is genetically based, and multiple strains of the P. semeniperda can infect the same seed.
- Following application, the fungus persists at least one year under field conditions. This may necessitate fungicide treatment of seeds following bio-control, and further suggests that current and past seeding failures in arid ecosystems may already be associated with the fungus.
- While a fraction of brome seeds were killed by the heat associated with fires, infected seeds that were not burned up were still able to produce conidia.
- Using P. semeniperda to control brome seeds in lab and field studies has been good to excellent so far. Taken as a whole, these results suggest excellent potential for Pyrennophora semeniperda as a bio-control for seeds of cheatgrass and red brome.
- The outcome following infection for annual brome seeds is a “race” between the germinating embryo and the fungus, both of which compete for endosperm reserves. For this reason, dormant or slowly germinating seeds are most likely to be killed by the fungus.
- P. semeniperda has many hosts, including native grasses, forbs and shrubs. Susceptibility to the fungus among species varies widely.
- Phil Allen, Craig Coleman, Mikel Stevens, Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences (College of Life Sciences) BYU
- Susan Meyer, US Forest Service Shrub Sciences Laboratory
- Julie Beckstead, David Boose, Gonzaga University
This research project is funded by: The USDA National Research Initiative, the USDA Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy, and the Joint Fire Science Program; with logistical support from the Bean Life Science Museum’s Lytle Ranch Preserve.
Water Development and Gambel’s Quail in the Mojave Desert (Randy Larsen)
Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii) occur in the American southwest including some parts of southern Utah. These birds are a native species of some concern in Utah given limited range and recent severe changes to their habitat due to increased fire frequency. In addition, Gambel’s quail are a focal species in the current and ongoing controversy surrounding wildlife water developments. Construction of wildlife water developments specifically for quail began as early as the 1940’s and has continued to the present. Water developments capture rain or snowmelt, store it, and provide access to water for wildlife during dry periods of the year. There are at least fifteen of these structures in and around the Lytle Ranch Preserve that, at least in part, are designed to benefit quail. Our goal over the next few years will be to assess the effects of wildlife water developments on Gambel’s quail and to determine the influence of recent severe fires on habitat use and selection. This work will be done in conjunction with broad-based sampling of water resource use across Utah. Results are expected to provide management agencies with important information related to the conservation of Gambel’s quail and the impact of wildlife water developments. This project is funded by the Utah State Division of Wildlife Resources with logistical support by the Bean Life Science Museum’s Lytle Ranch Preserve. Dr. Randy Larsen, a faculty member in the Plant and Wildlife Sciences Department (College of Life Sciences), is the principal investigator for this research project.
Studying Plant-mediated Interactions at the Lytle Preserve (Ian Baldwin)
The overarching research objective of the Department of Molecular Ecology at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology is to manipulate ecological interactions in nature to identify traits that are demonstrably important for an organism's Darwinian fitness in the complexity of interactions that occur in nature. We focus on plant-mediated interactions and have developed ecological expression systems with two native plants that have a rich suite of ecological interactions, Nicotiana attenuata and Solanum nigrum, as well as the herbivores that feed on them, the fungi and bacteria that interact with their roots, and their floral visitors. For more information, see: http://www.ice.mpg.de
For the 2011 field season at the Lytle Ranch Preserve, we will be examining secondary metabolites and other gene products that are involved in:
- pollinator attraction
- defense signaling
- UV-B resistance
- negotiating the complicated interactions with the plant’s microbial community
- mycorrhizal associations
- mate selection by plants
- direct and indirect defense mechanisms against herbivores
Our goal is to understand how plants survive in nature. Few agricultural plants can survive even a single growing season without being pampered with fertilizers, water and protection from competitors, pathogens and herbivores. We have bred agricultural plants to do amazing things, to produce food for us which their wild ancestors didn’t, but in doing so, they have become environmentally “challenged”. Survival in the real world requires complex traits that quantitatively adjust a plant’s metabolism to meet the demands of growth, defense and reproduction required for plants to maximize their production of offspring and thereby their Darwinian fitness. Surprisingly, we know very little about the genes that make this possible. Understanding the genetic basis of these important survival traits will allow us to engineer our agricultural crops to become more self-sufficient and the two native plants that we study at the Lytle Ranch Preserve will help us to identify these genes. The Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology has been conducting research at the Lytle Ranch Preserve for more than 15 years.
List of Publications Acknowledging the use of BYU’s Lytle Preserve:
(2014). Root jasmonic acid synthesis and perception regulate folivore-induced shoot metabolites and increase Nicotiana attenuata resistance. New Phytologist, 202(4), 1335-1345.
(2014). A robust, simple, high-throughput technique for time-resolved plant volatile analysis in field experiments. The Plant Journal, 78, 1060-1072.
(2014). Natural history-driven, plant mediated RNAi based study reveals CYP6B46’s role in a nicotine-mediated antipredator herbivore defense. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(4), 1245-1252.
(2014). Differences in nicotine metabolism of two Nicotiana attenuata herbivores render them differentially susceptible to a common native predator. PLoS One, 9(4): e95982.
(2014). Analysis of plant-bacteria interactions in their native habitat: bacterial communities associated with wild tobacco are independent of endogenous jasmonic acid levels and developmental stages. PLoS One, 9(4): e94710.
Hall*, L.K., R.T. Larsen, R.N. Knight, K.D. Bunnell, and B.R. McMillan. 2013. Water developments and canids in two North American deserts: a test of the indirect effect of water hypothesis. PLoS ONE 8(7): e67800. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067800.
Hall*, L.K., C.C. Day*, M.D. Westover*, R.J. Edgel*, R.T. Larsen, R.N. Knight, and B.R. McMillan. 2013. Vigilance behavior of kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis) at water sources: A test of the predator-vigilance and visibility-vigilance hypotheses for a solitary carnivore subject to intraguild predation. Behavioral Processes 94:76-82.
(2013). Leaf-herbivore attack reduces carbon reserves and regrowth from the roots via jasmonate and auxin signaling. New Phytologist 200: 1234-1246.