Amy Wiedenfeld (Photo courtesy of Amy Widenfeld)
PhD student, University of Lethbridge (2022–present)
Amy Wiedenfeld, Weston Family Conservation Science Fellow at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), is excited to take on a multi-year study about the population dynamics of at-risk plant species in Canada. She believes plants are cool and wants to dispel the misperception that they are uninteresting.
Amy has always had an innate love for plants. During her undergraduate years studying biology, she confirmed her passion through a class in plants, which sent her down a path studying plants for years to come.
“I did my master’s at Arizona State University and studied the effects of rainfall and nematodes (small worms that can eat plant roots) on seasonal plant growth in the desert of the southwest U.S.,” said Amy. “After working briefly as a field technician for National Ecological Observatory Network, where I spent a lot of time observing and identifying plant flowering time and identifying plants, I became really interested in plant identification, especially how you can tell very similar species apart.”
The next few years took Amy down a different track — into soil sciences. At the University of Florida, she worked as a lab manager for their soil landscape ecology lab, looking at how environmental changes affect soil nutrients and biomass in soil. This reminded her just how much she missed working closely with plants, which is why she is especially thrilled to come back to her first love and immerse herself in plant studies with the Weston Family Conservation Science Fellowship Program.
“I’ve just settled in Alberta after moving here from [Florida] and getting started on plant population modelling of rare plant species to see what their habitats look like and what makes good habitat for these species,” says Amy.
Her research will focus on the species in the temperate deciduous forests of southern Ontario, but the exact location will depend on the selected species.
Amy hopes this research would helps us learn more about the species and their habitat requirements. “I would like to be able to better quantify the populations of rare species so that there is data on these species for conservation efforts,” she says.
The fellowship opens up new opportunities for staying in academia, post-PhD. Amy believes that conservation is an important motivator for her. In the past, there was little intersection between her studies and the impact of climate change on plants. But climate change is here, and it’s important to know what it is doing to the ecosystems.
“Going forward, I’m thinking more about what I can do for plants from a conservation aspect. The overall projects that the grant support — mine and another graduate student’s — could inform rare species conservation work because we’re studying similar ecosystems. My project can potentially inform conservation strategies and provide information on where these plants are doing well and what conditions do these species like.”
Over the next two years, Amy is looking forward to hands-on field work, which is challenging but also a lot of fun. Most of all, she’s happy to be getting her feet back into the world of plants in this fellowship with NCC.
Learn more about Amy's research: Spotting the spotted wintergreen: Research on rare woodland plants in Ontario
Amy's research is part of a larger research project at the University of Lethbridge led by Dr. Jenny McCune. Learn more about this research: