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Allen Larocque

 Name: Allen Larocque        Degree:  PhD Candidate

Allen Laroque SC01687

Thesis research: Central to ‘the ecological thought’ is a deep message of interconnection. This concept is engagingly symbolized by the existence of Common Mycorrhizal Networks (MNs) – networks of fungal hyphae that connect plants together and establish pathways for nutrient, water, and communication molecules. My project will examine these processes in the ‘salmon forests’ of BC, where the coming of spawning salmon and their subsequent deaths represent a large nutrient pulse that subsidizes the terrestrial ecosystem with marine- derived nutrients. These salmon-derived nutrients are taken up and incorporated by the mycorrhizal fungi of trees and plants, and then may be transferred a considerable distance from the stream through MNs, providing a nutrient subsidy at a distance into the surrounding forest away from salmon-bearing streams and rivers. These nutrients change the dynamics of the forest – forests along a gradient of streams showing different salmon abundance, for example, have different vegetation, insect, and bird communities. The fate of15N in different tree, plant, and soil components can be examined to elucidate seasonal, annual and decadal nutrient fluxes from marine to terrestrial systems. In addition to their effects on nutrient cycling and aboveground biotic communities, the effects of salmon subsidies on soil communities in general has never before been investigated. I propose to examine salmon forests using dendrochronology, heavy isotopes and molecular genetics to elucidate the roles of MNs in mediating nutrient uptake, transfer and cycling by trees, plants, fungi and soils; test and parameterize competing models of network patterns and system dynamics; and investigate the ecological and evolutionary pros and cons of being a MN participant.

Communication research: I seek to communicate my science through art, primarily living, ecological sculptures. Contemporary art is often criticised for being inaccessible and elitist; the distance at which contemporary art often keeps its viewers is an apt metaphor for the distance between science and society in general. Both use technical, difficult to understand language and both have a tendency to become so immersed in their own specialization that communication with non-experts becomes difficult or impossible. However, art I feel is in a unique position to approach these gaps: it is non-verbal, immediately graspable, and can be easily accessible as long as sufficient context is given by the artist. I want to communicate science through art in an accessible way that enhances the appreciation of both. I have multiple projects in mind to instantiate these goals; the projects all involve growing, dynamic sculpture that change through time and illustrate ecological concepts such as niche, non-human time scales, and interconnection. The installations are intended as public, long-term installations and the project will culminate, in collaboration with other artists and professors from Emily Carr, in a gallery exhibition in May 2018. If you are interested in participating, let me know!

Thesis Topic: Central to ‘the ecological thought’ is a deep message of interconnection

Supervisor: Dr. Suzanne Simard

Publications:

Conference presentations
“Fish, Forests, Fungi: The Role of Mycorrhizae in Salmon Forests”. Pacific Evolution and Ecology Conference; Bamfield, BC (regional).

Posters
“Fish in the Forest”. CONFORWest conference; Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, USA (regional).

 

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