Weed work sets Canadian student apart

TWU student’s B.C. research makes her only undergraduate student from a Canadian university to win American research award

Langley, British Columbia—Hannah Shriner can remember chopping down a pesky weed known as “Scotch broom,” when she was growing up on her family’s Washington farm. But what was a nuisance to her in her younger years has made her an award winner this year.

Shriner’s study on the effects of this weed in B.C.’s coastal region has ranked her among seven North American students to earn the Weed Science Society of America award for undergraduate research. Even more impressive, Shriner, a third-year biology student in the honours program at Trinity Western University, is the only student from a Canadian university to win this year.

“At this point, I’m doing nitrate tests and seed analyses on soil samples,” says Shriner. “We’re trying to find out if the Scotch broom is increasing nitrogen levels in the soil, or just fixing enough nitrogen to allow itself to grow.”

Shriner will use the $1000 U.S. grant as she ventures to Trinity Western’s 72.6-acre Crowsnest property on B.C.’s Salt Spring Island this summer. While she studies plant and marine ecology with classmates taking part in TWU’s first course on the island property, Shriner will collect the rest of the samples needed for her study.

“This grant allows me to increase my sites so I can have enough data to really understand what’s happening to the soil dynamics when Scotch broom is here,” says Shriner, who already has three sites in B.C. and three sites in Washington on the go. The sites keep her busy, as she visits each location four times a year and collects 13 samples at each place.

Shriner first heard of the Weed Science Society of America award from David Clements, PhD, a biology professor at TWU and an expert in weed science.

“I sent a proposal with a cover letter, stating why I’m interested in weed sciences, with a summary of my thesis project at school here,” says Shriner, who admits that the weed may not look so bad to the average passerby.

“They are pretty,” says Shriner of the yellow flowered bushes, the focus of her two-year research project. “But they take over the natural habitat.”

Scotch broom, officially called Cytisus scoparius L., is a native of Western Europe and was introduced to the coastal areas of Canada and the U.S. as an ornamental plant.

“They’ve also been planted along B.C.’s highways to stabilize banks, because they have a good root structure and they take off easily,” explains Shriner. “The problem with them taking off easily is that they then spread to places where people don’t want them. And they’re hard to get rid of because they have such a strong seed bank presence.”

The results from Shriner’s study will shed light on Scotch broom’s role in B.C.’s coastal ecosystems and provide background data for better management of Scotch broom.

“The study will help people know of the implications—what’s happening to the soil dynamics of the area if Scotch broom is there,” says Shriner. “And it will help us understand ways to control Scotch broom.”

As for what she hopes to do after graduation, Shriner mentions going to graduate school to study rangelands and mountain ecology.

“But I don’t know,” she confesses. “I kind of like the coast.”

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling over 3,000 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2007-09-26