Undergraduate Research

Maya Sagarin ’23

OUR Featured Researcher: Maya Sagarin ’23

Maya Sagarin
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Maya Sagarin (she/her) is majoring in biology. She conducts research under the mentorship of Associate Professor of Biology Roger Laushman. Her project is titled “Using dendroecology to understand the response of Liriodendron tulipifera to EAB-induced ash mortality.”

Please describe your project:

Tree-ring data is a useful tool for understanding patterns in a forest, whether it be climate patterns or changes in forest health. This project examines the tree-ring record of different species in Chance Creek Preserve to understand how the health of these species has reacted to disturbances in the ecosystem, specifically the invasion of the emerald ash borer (EAB) around two decades ago. Specifically, we separate Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip poplar) individuals into groups based on ecological and physiological traits (habitat, age class, and degree of ash loss in the surrounding area) to tease out what factors have influenced any decline in health. This work builds on woody plant surveys by past Oberlin students that indicated a decline in tulip poplar numbers but increase in relative area in the forest in recent decades.

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:

My project uses tree ring records to understand how species other than ash have reacted to rapid ash mortality from the emerald ash borer (EAB) invasion. Specifically, it examines tulip poplar health because woody plant surveys indicated a decline in tulip poplar numbers starting before EAB and continuing past the invasion.

Why is your research important?

Researchers are still understanding how invasive species impact ecosystems on a larger scale, and this research helps answer those questions. Significant canopy disturbances like the EAB invasion are not new to this century, and understanding how species other than ash react to this disturbance in the environment helps us understand past disturbances.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

In the field, we take cores from trees, which we dry then measure on a microscope in the lab. These measurements become time series we transfer between various pieces of software, and coding in R helps us tease out patterns in these series.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

A subset of tulip poplars on the floodplain, as opposed to the drier upland habitat, significantly declined in growth after the EAB invasion, so these trees are likely more susceptible to changes in soil moisture after ash trees died. We also found changes in traditional tree-ring methods might provide more ecological information.

In what ways have you showcased your research thus far?

I’ve presented research at the Ecological Society of America conference this past summer.

Maya looks at a large, fallen tree in the forestHow did you get involved in research? What drove you to seek out research experiences in college?

I took a class with Roger Laushman in the field I thought I wanted to pursue in a career, and I asked to join his lab when I realized I enjoyed the class. Spending summers here in the lab allowed me to get comfortable doing this research.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

Reading and realizing that you know a lot about a certain topic. Working through coding is hard but rewarding.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?

I’ve learned what works for me in the research process and what doesn’t. I’ve gotten such a great introduction to the field of forestry through my mentor, and I understand what I’m more interested in.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?

Researching has made me more independent academically. Specifically, it has made me feel like when I reach challenges and things I don’t know how to do, I do know how to access resources to help me get through them.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

Understand that starting research is new for everyone. You won’t know a lot of things when you start, and you might spend a lot of time learning about what you’re doing instead of doing, but that is why you are in undergrad.