Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Graduate student generates mushroom enthusiasm

Christin Anderson inspects resupinate fungi during a Palmer workshop.

SNRE graduate student Christin Anderson has been tromping around Fairbanks woods, introducing first-graders to the wonders of the forest and of mushrooms.

Anderson, who hopes to earn her master’s in natural resource management this semester, volunteered recently as a docent at Calypso Farm. She led 50 first-graders in rotating groups through the woods, garden, barn and a yurt with beehives.
“I taught about the woods and got everyone very excited about mushrooms, which are my specialty,” she said. “We found a rotting log with soft, marshmallowy shelf-fungi (Plicatura nivea) fruiting from it, and when we broke it open, saw mycelium!” She took the students to a squirrel midden and explained the ecology of squirrels feeding on truffles, which are mycorrhizally connected to the spruce trees, which are homes for squirrels. “They might not have understood all the vocabulary I used, but we sure had a good time,” she said. Mycorrhiza is a symbiotic connection between the fungus and the roots of the plant.
Tinder polypore was used by humans during the Ice Age.
Flickr photo
Anderson was also a guest speaker for the recent RAP retreat. She gave a 15-minute lecture on fungal biology and then walked with the group in the woods, where they found plenty of beautiful and interesting mushrooms. Another guest speaker taught the group about native plants and their uses, so they made a good team, she said.
“My favorite part was when one of the students sawed open a tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius) and lit a chunk of the fibrous interior on fire. It smoldered nicely, making it easy to imagine that same species being used as tinder by humans during the Ice Age.” The frozen, ancient “Ice Man” found in the Alps carried a pouch that contained that exact species, which could have been used to carry smoldering fire or for medicinal reasons, she said.
For her master’s project, Anderson is investigating the potential use of a white-rot fungi (Pleurotus ostreatus) for diesel degradation in subarctic soils, especially in cold temperatures. Mushrooms get their food from decaying wood or other organic matter, parasitizing living organisms or forming symbiotic relationships. She focused her research on the wood decay variety of mushrooms to see if they can degrade hydrocarbons, such as oil. She experimented with diesel-contaminated soil from Kaltag to see if the fungi would break down the contaminants.
Soil remediation using fungi has been attempted successfully in warmer climates and is the subject of research interest. “It’s a whole new field of mycoremediation,” she said.
She ordered the fungus online. She attempted soil remediation while growing it  at different temperatures in several refrigerators in the Irving Building and in the West Ridge Research Building cold room. She is still analyzing her results.
Anderson's interest in mushrooms began when she was a child and continued through college. She worked with mycologist Gary Laursen this summer and helped him teach mushroom identification workshops in Palmer, McCarthy, Homer, Fairbanks and Denali Park. She also taught a three-part class on mushroom biology, identification and cooking at the Folks School Fairbanks. She is also working with emeritus professor Glenn Juday as a research assistant on the Bonanza Creek research site. After she graduates, she plans to take some time off and then look for a job in the conservation area.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

SNRE profiles: Horticulturist finds research home at UAF

Horticulture Professor Meriam Karlsson and Research Technician Cameron Willingham show corn harvested at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm in 2012.
Meriam Karlsson grew up on a small dairy farm in southern Sweden, between Stockholm and  Malmö. Her family grew hay, barley and oats for a herd of 20 to 30 cows.

Agriculture seemed like the logical career path to her, but she was more interested in plants than animals, so she studied horticulture at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and then at Michigan State University, where she earned a master’s and a doctorate in horticulture. She studied the effects of temperature and light on plants, particularly flowering plants produced in greenhouses.

Since there were no job opportunities in Sweden when she graduated, Karlsson accepted a job at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1988 to research greenhouse production and to teach. The extreme day lengths and short field seasons in Alaska intrigued her, she said, and they still do.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

SNRE offers new forest management minor

Beginning this fall, the School of Natural Resources and Extension has started offering a new minor in forest management. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities has approved the minor, which is now included under the accreditation of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Students wishing to receive the forestry management minor must complete a minimum of 16 credits. Required classes include Natural Resources Measurement and Inventory, NRM F240; Silvics and Dendrology, NRM, F251; and Natural Resource Ecology, NRM F375, or Principles of Ecology, BIOL F371. They must also complete two of the following classes, Introduction to Watershed Management,  NRM F370; Silviculture, NRM F440; Forestry Management, NRM F450; Forest Health and Protection, NRM  F452; and Harvesting and Utilization of Forest Products, NRM F453.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

SNRE profiles: Casey Matney begins work on the Kenai

Casey Matney
As the new agriculture and horticulture Extension agent for the Kenai Peninsula District, Casey Matney is finding his responsibilities are almost as broad as his territory, the entire Kenai Peninsula.

Matney will work with livestock producers, hay farmers, berry and peony growers, and will help gardeners, high tunnel operators and others learn how to better grow food for personal use and for sale. Because Alaska imports a high percentage of its food supply, improving food security is a priority, he said.

“It’s important for people to produce their own food here,” he said. He notes a strong interest among Alaskans who want “farm fresh food.”

Some of the agent’s work will depend on needs and requests from area residents. Matney expects to make recommendations on soil amendments and fertilizers and as well as on pest and weed management. In the off season, Matney hopes to conduct research to better understand how the winter and temperature fluctuations affect plant growth and survival.

Matney, who grew up near Sandy and Mount Hood in Oregon, is a rangeland specialist by training. He earned a doctorate in rangeland ecology and management, a master’s in rangeland resources and bachelor’s degree in habitat management in fisheries and wildlife, all from Oregon State University.

After earning his doctorate in 2010, he worked as a rangeland management Extension specialist for Colorado State University for five years, consulting with private, state and federal land managers about managing rangelands for livestock and wildlife. He also taught rangeland courses and served as co-chair for the CSU Drought Team.

Matney began his new job Aug. 10 and is working with others to learn about Alaska’s conditions and agricultural issues. He is already familiar with gardening, since he grew up gardening and surrounded by Oregon berry fields.

He is excited about the move to Alaska for his family, which includes his wife, Stevie, two daughters, ages 2 and 5, and a 15-year-old son. His wife’s family lived in Ketchikan until she was 11, and she has always wanted to return to the state, he said. He is also happy to relocate.

“I grew up hunting and fishing so Kenai is a good place to be,” he said. Contact Matney at 907-262-5824 or at camatney@alaska.edu.