Plants are amazing: each plant can be studied as a complex ecosystem!
Currently enrolled at UBC Vancouver as a PhD Candidate studying phytobiomes (essentially studying plants as their own “phytobiome”, plant and “biome”, ecosystem), Laura Super reminds us that plants are fascinating. Human life greatly depends on plants, and they are so much more than just plant cells. “Plants are covered all over with a vast microbiome, including bacteria, fungi, and protists!”
“We know very little about all of the organisms living on and in plants and how those interact with the environment in natural and disturbed systems,” Laura says. Studying plants as complex ecosystems is a phytobiome research approach, which Laura and the team collaborating with her (professors, staff, and students) are involved in at UBC. Her research involves multiple studies, on plants and soil, one of them being the complex phytobiomes of three tree species commonly found in Metro Vancouver’s regional parks: Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirbel) Franco), western red cedar (Thuja plicata Donn ex D.Don), and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla (Raf.) Sarg.).
One of her PhD research projects examines the impact of simulated climate warming and nitrogen deposition on the three species as young tree seedlings. These are iconic and ubiquitous trees of the coastal Pacific Northwest forests; when mature, they are towering trees that much of Metro Vancouver’s local wildlife calls home.
Laura Super thinks of life as “a quilt that is growing as we move through life; it has new squares with patterns as well as foundational squares with designs from before. These foundational squares play a large role in building the rest of the fabric.” Pacific Parklands Foundation (PPF) and CTS Youth Society (CTS) are proud to be a couple of squares on that quilt.
“I greatly appreciate the support from the Pacific Parklands Foundation and CTS Youth Society,” Laura says. “Not just for helping me, but for the many others they have supported over the years. They try to help many people, and we need as many as possible loving and taking care of our parks!”
Laura was a recipient of the Gordon Smith Environmental Stewardship Award, as well as a summer bursary to be a Peer Leader at CTS Youth Society right out of high school before starting university. She credits these programs and awards for supporting her passion for conservation and environmental stewardship. Laura spent a significant amount of time with CTS at Pacific Spirit Regional Park, where she showed her dedication to the environment at a young age, planting native plants, removing non-bog plants, and practicing other stewardship activities at Camosun Bog. Enchanted by BC’s beautiful ecosystems, natural and urban, when the choice came to go away for her PhD or stay in Vancouver, her love of trees and BC’s coastal ecosystems kept her studying at UBC Vancouver.
“Our world has many problems, but CTS Youth Society and the Pacific Parklands Foundation are focused on positive solutions, inclusion, empowerment and engagement. I take the lessons — quilt squares for that ever-growing fabric — I learned from CTS and PPF in the way I approach those I mentor, including a weekly working group with university students, Phytobiome Research Working Group (PRWG).”
Still learning as a budding botanist, ecologist, and sustainability researcher, Laura is determined to share the skills she learned through experiences like the CTS Peer Leader program with those who are willing to support or join her on her journey (in teaching, outreach and research) both on and off campus.
In addition to science research, Laura is passionate about both social and ecological sustainability, and has been involved in a Kindness Project with other faculty, staff, students and off campus partners. This project initially started as a UBC Sustainability Ambassadors project that Laura started at UBC with other partners in kindness in 2019 and has now grown and gone global.
More recently, Laura has been advocating for equitable research funds for her PhD research and for others to benefit from. Dedicating her Saturdays to “Bottle Recycling for Botany Research,” she quickly learned this was a successful a “win-win” scenario that raises funding while also helping the broader community. As donations trickle in, she encourages those who resonate with her work to donate and spread the word. “One of the kindest things people can do for graduate students is to make sure their research is properly funded, or at least make it easy and accessible to raise those funds.”
Learn more about Laura’s phytobiome-related endeavors and win-win advocacy for recycling, equitable research funding, and botany research here.
You can reach out to Laura Super at firstname.lastname@example.org