Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania


Founded in 1886, the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania (BSWP) is one of the oldest botanical organizations in the country. To continue this long history of botanical curiosity and education, BSWP is excited to support undergraduate student research on the flora of Western Pennsylvania.

Eligibility: Students enrolled in an undergraduate degree program or within one year of receiving an undergraduate degree. Either student or the student’s research mentor must be a member of the society. To become a member or to renew a membership, please visit https://www.botsocwpa.org/membership.php

Scope: Research on any aspect of botany in Western Pennsylvania or immediate region. Projects may be broader in scale than Western Pennsylvania but must include at least one species found in the region. Any combination of field, greenhouse, lab, or herbarium work is supported.  

Amount: $500 per award, but higher amounts may be considered based on need. Two (2) awards are expected to be given in 2022.

Application Materials

1) a title page listing student’s name, school affiliation (including major and anticipated graduation date), and research advisor’s name and proposal title; 

2) a project description (max 2 pages), including summary of project, timeline of activities, itemized budget, and references cited;

3) one letter of recommendation from the student’s research advisor.

Awardee Isiah Kratzer presented a poster on his winning work at the 2022 West Virginia University Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium and the abstract is reprinted here:

Developing and testing polymorphic microsatellite markers in a sensitive Appalachian
herb, smooth rock skullcap (Scutellaria saxatilis: Lamiaceae)

Rarity and low genetic diversity in sensitive species are often precursors  for extinction. Scutellaria saxatilis, the smooth rock skullcap, is a sensitive plant found at ~80 localities clustered in the eastern US, and is at risk of extinction due to small populations, low diversity, climate change, and human-caused disturbance. Little is known about genetic diversity in this species, thus hampering conservation efforts. To quantify genetic diversity in this species, we used microsatellite DNA primers developed from genomic sequences of another Scutellaria species. Sixteen primers successfully amplified single bands between 100-500bp. Multiplex polymerase chain reactions (PCR) with two sets of four primer pairs (eight total) resulted in clear bands demonstrating a visible degree of length polymorphism for most loci. Optimization of 5’ tailed primers was conducted on a panel of 12 accessions, of which a single set of 45 cycles was found to produce sharper bands relative to a two-step PCR. The final steps will be to perform multiplex PCRs with fluorescent dyes for analysis on a Genetic Analyzer to determine evidence of polymorphism and diversity in S. saxatilis. This research aims to deepen understanding of genetic diversity and potential risk of S. saxatilis extinction to curate conservation efforts.

Three students received this award in 2022!

$500 awards went to three worthy students:

  • Jack Hatajik (University of Pittsburgh) “Mapping the populations dynamics of the invasive Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) in response to climate”
  • Olivia Holley (Penn State Behrend) “Soil composition varies with presence of Celastrus orbiculatus”
  • Isiah Kratzer (West Virginia University) “Quantifying genetic diversity in sensitive Appalachian herb, smooth rock skullcap (Scutellaria saxatalis: Lauraceae)”

Awardee Jack Hatajik presented a poster on his BSWP-funded work at the Botany 22 Conference recently held in Anchorage, Alaska. Hatajik's research abstract follows:

Mapping the population dynamics of the invasive Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) in response to climate

Invasive species (defined as organisms that cause ecological or economic harm in a new environment where they are not native) are identified in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest Special Report as one of the greatest threats to native biodiversity and nutrient cycles around the world. Importantly, approximately 42% of threatened or endangered species around the world are currently at risk due to invasive species through mechanisms such as competition for resources and allelopathy. Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) is considered highly invasive in eastern North America after being introduced from Eurasia in the mid-1800s and is now one of the most aggressive invaders on the continent having been documented in 40 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces. This species is problematic because it is allelopathic and disrupts mycorrhizal mutualisms of native plant species, thereby reducing performance and potentially compromising persistence in native ecosystems. As such, a great deal of effort has been put into the removal of this weedy invader through chemical, mechanical, and/or integrated controls. Because of its importance in the management and conservation of natural ecosystems, it is integral that we understand the drivers of its invasion and the factors that allow it to persist across the landscape. For example, past research has identified extreme climate events (such as severely hot and dry summers) as limiting the distribution of Alliaria in the eastern US. Other research has identified conspecific negative density dependence (CNDD), where a high abundance of Alliaria leads to higher intraspecific competition compared to competition with other species, as a major limitation. Some authors even suggest that CNDD causes Alliaria to gradually reduce in allelopathy over time, leading to reduced population size and reduced persistence in areas where Alliaria invaded relatively early. Although support exists for both theories, a gap in the literature exists comparing them against each other. I performed a combined herbarium, field, and laboratory study in which I have 1) mapped the invasion of Alliaria using historical museum specimens, 2) used this information to estimate time since invasion at sites across the eastern U.S., 3) measured Alliaria abundance, allelopathy, and population-level metrics across a range of these sites, and 4) evaluated whether environmental conditions or reductions in CNDD provide a better explanation for observed patterns of Alliaria distributions. Results from this will inform land managers and conservationists about the population dynamics of this pervasive weedy invader and broaden our understanding of the population dynamics of invasive species in general. Although this research is limited to Alliaria, it will provide a resource these professionals can use to inform management practices and improve cost efficiency.