Shinn Fund Recipients

Tom and Bruce Shinn Fund

Shinn Fund Recipients

Recipients of the Tom and Bruce Shinn fund have conducted research on a wide array of native plant related topics. Since 2013, over 30 undergraduate and graduate students from eight universities across the state have received funds for their research projects. Their studies have taken them to remote rocky outcrops and cliff faces, rugged mountain terrain, piedmont forests and prairies, open salt marshes, swamps, and marshy coastal plains. Steamy summer days, pesky insects, long hours, and heavy backpacks have not deterred their enthusiasm for research. Results of their studies have furthered our knowledge of North Carolina’s native flora.

Table of Contents


The Role of Microbial Communities in Pitcher Plants
The Purple Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia purpurea, uses its brightly colored pitchers to attract insect prey to its water-filled tubes, where they fall in and drown. Nutrients and minerals from the digested prey are absorbed through the walls of the pitcher plant tube, which functions somewhat like a stomach. However, S. purpurea does not have the ability to digest its captured prey, as the plant lacks the necessary enzymes. Instead, it relies on a diversity of organisms to perform this task. Microbes play an essential role in this process, and therefore significantly influence the plant’s overall health, but the significance of microbial diversity within the pitchers is poorly understood. Katrina DeWitt plans to study how environmental factors, such as temperature along an altitudinal gradient, change S. purpurea microbial communities and, in turn, affect growth and morphology of the pitchers. Her research will show how this dynamic can be perturbed by alterations of temperature and nutrient availability, and how profound these effects can be on the fitness of the pitcher plants.

Katrina DeWitt, Duke University
Microbial diversity in the native pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea: the role of environmental factors across short temporal scales.
Advisor: Dr. Jean Philippe Gibert
Mosses Respond to Changing Climatic Conditions
In the Southern Appalachian Mountains mosses are highly abundant, and at least 368 species have been recorded in the area. In the mountains, as elsewhere, bryophytes are thought of as bioindicators of forest integrity. However, moss communities are sensitive to variable precipitation patterns and higher temperatures and could be severely impacted by changing climatic conditions. To understand these impacts, Leigha Henson will utilize an outdoor experimental system to subject six Southern Appalachian moss species, grown in large tubs, to various climate regimes. She will record responses of the mosses for a year, measuring growth, chlorophyll and moisture content, photosynthesis response curves, CO2 gas exchange, and chlorophyll fluorescence, which gives indication of robustness of the photosynthetic pathway. Leigha’s research will provide insight on an understudied but vital component of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

Leigha Henson, Appalachian State University
Warming and precipitation effects on several common moss species of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Advisor: Dr. Howard Neufeld
Merry Conlin in the field
Living in a Ditch is not Ideal
Raven’s Seedbox (Ludwigia ravenii) is a critically imperiled wetland plant under review for federal listing. Although historically known from natural habitats, Raven’s Seedbox currently exists in a precarious state, as it is known only from artificial and unprotected habitats. These include roadside ditches and vehicle ruts in wet depressions, leaving populations vulnerable to disturbance. Despite this, no research has been conducted on the specific habitat requirements of Raven’s Seedbox, which represents a foundational knowledge gap for species conservation efforts. Merry Conlin will fill that gap by quantitatively characterizing the biotic and abiotic factors of habitats where the species is currently found. This valuable life history data will be essential in listing decisions and management of the species.

Merry Conlin, North Carolina State University
The inconspicuous Ludwigia: Quantitative habitat characterization of critically imperiled Ludwigia ravenii (Onagraceae).
Advisor: Dr. Alexander Krings
Bee on Echinacea
Climate-Induced Bee Declines and Plant Fitness
Researchers have measured the upper limit for heat tolerance in wild bee species, known as the critical thermal maximum, above which bees lose muscular control and cannot fly. Heat-sensitive bees could become unable to visit flowering plants if future climate conditions lead to increased air temperatures. This threatens to perturb the plant-pollinator network in unforeseen ways. Melina Keighron will experimentally test the outcome of pollinator loss on a community of plant species at NCSU’s Agroecology Farm. She will use pollinator flight cages to sequentially limit the number of bee species available to pollinate five native plants, reducing the bee species by order of those most sensitive to high temperatures. By recording pollination visits and collecting and quantifying pollen grains from bees and plants, Melina will empirically examine how the loss of pollinator species and subsequent network rewiring affects the reproduction of the five native plant species.

Melina Keighron, North Carolina State University
The Effects of climate change-induced wild bee pollinator declines on plant fitness. Advisor: Dr. Elsa Youngstead
Rachel Vinson
Effects of Drought on Longleaf Pine Savanna
The longleaf pine savanna once covered 60 to 90 million acres across southeastern US, but has dwindled to about 3% of its original range. The remaining habitat faces many threats, including the uncertain impact from global climate change. Fire is an essential component in maintaining the savanna ecosystem, allowing a diverse understory plant community to flourish. However, increasing droughts due to changing climate conditions could hinder regeneration of plants after fires and result in negative cascading effects throughout the forest ecosystem. To investigate these effects, Rachel Vinson will collect plant and insect composition data from simulated drought and control study plots located in the Sandhills Game Lands. This will be the fourth year of data collection at the site, and she will use this large data set to show how the plant community responded over time to decreased rainfall.

Rachel Vinson, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
The effects of drought on plant and insect species composition in the longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) savanna. Advisor: Dr. Sally Koerner


Protecting Gray’s Lily
Ben Brewer is investigating the beautiful Gray’s Lily (Lilium grayi), found in the Southern Appalachians of North Carolina and neighboring states. Gray’s Lily is susceptible to Lily Leaf Spot, and Ben will use extensive field surveys, especially of the large population at Tater Hill Plant Preserve, to monitor fungal disease and collect flower and fruit number. Gray’s Lily also faces genetic degradation through hybridization with the more common Canada Lily (L. canadense). Using molecular markers and over 300 individual plants, Ben will determine the population structure of Gray’s Lily and the extent to which hybridization threatens the survival of the species.

Ben Brewer, Appalachian State University
Demographic monitoring and investigation of hybridization in Lilium grayi. Advisor: Dr. Matt Estep
Genetic diversity of Ramps Populations
David Camp’s research focus is on Ramps (Allium tricoccum). These delicate greens have a long cultural history in the Southeast, and the culinary world has taken notice. Concerns of overharvesting prompted David to document the genetic diversity found in Ramps populations in the Great Smoky National Park. Establishing baseline data before a species becomes imperiled strengthens future monitoring and conservation practices, which is what David hopes to accomplish.

David Camp, Appalachian State University
Conservation Genetics of Ramps (Allium tricoccum). Advisor: Dr. Matt Estep
Shinn recipient David Camp
Ramps emerging in the spring
Potential of Princess Tree to Replace Tulip Poplar
Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is a familiar member of plant communities throughout the Southeast. Noticing that the aggressively invasive Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa) is ecologically similar to Tulip Poplar, Hannah Dinkins decided to study the potential of the Princess Tree to replace it in Southern Appalachians forest communities. To do this, she will use seedlings in burned and unburned research plots across natural light gradients. After the first year, she will measure multiple parameters, such as water use, photosynthetic rates, and biomass, to compare the two species.

Hannah Dinkins, Western Carolina University
Photosynthesis, water use, and biomass allocation of Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa) and Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) first year seedlings across a light gradient and with or without prescribed fire. Advisor: Dr. Beverly Collins
Shinn recipient Hannah Dinkins
Pollinators found on High-elevation Rocky Outcrops
Carson Ellis is interested in the pollination of plant communities on remote high-elevation outcrops in the Southern Appalachians. These resource limited and isolated habitats, sparsely distributed and exposed to harsh weather conditions, present challenges to pollinators and researchers alike. Carson will monitor these plant communities over time, collecting data related to pollination in order to assemble a floral visitation network. To strengthen the network connections, he will also analyze the pollen grains of captured pollinators. Understanding pollinator and plant assemblages of these rare outcrops, which often harbor endemic and imperiled plants, will be critical information in protecting these fragile habitats.

Carson Ellis, Western Carolina University
Seasonal dynamics of floral visitation networks on high-elevation rock outcrops. Advisor: Dr. Beverly Collins
Huperzia Lucidula
Hidden Secrets of Shining Clubmoss
Shining Clubmoss (Huperzia lucidula) is found in moist coniferous and mixed hardwood forests throughout North Carolina and may harbor a compound useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Secondary metabolites have already been isolated from its Asian relative, Toothed Clubmoss, and are being used medicinally, leading to a decline in natural populations. Currently, neither clubmoss can be propagated in nurseries. Before interest in Shining Clubmoss here in North Carolina leads to overharvesting, Vanessa Gremler is keen to discover whether or not it harbors endophytic fungi that produce the medically relevant secondary metabolites. She is also interested in isolating the symbiotic endophytic fungi that live with Shining Clubmoss, as knowledge may allow others to propagate it in nursery settings.

Vanessa Gremler, Appalachian State University
Analysis of AChE Inhibitors in Huperzia lucidula endophytes. Advisor: Dr. Annkatrin Rose
Who Pollinates Venus Flytraps?
The Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is one of the most charismatic plant species in the South, yet there has been only limited work on its pollination ecology, critical information in protecting the species. Laura Hamon is continuing her fieldwork she began in 2018 to document the various species that visit Venus Flytraps and empirically show which is the most efficient pollinator of the species. She will also focus on seed set and assess the effects of supplemental prey (ie feeding them crickets) and/or pollen on seed numbers.

Laura Hamon, North Carolina State University
Pollination ecology of Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Irwin
Rare Pitcher Plants and their Associated Flies
Peter Kann studies the relationship between well-known pitcher plants (Sarracenia) and the flies (Fletcherimyia) that use them as host plants. These flies feed on the pitcher plant’s captured prey, not on plant tissue. Peter will determine which species of Fletcherimyia are associated with two rare, endangered pitcher plants, S. jonesii and S. oreophila.

Peter Kann, East Carolina University
One flew over the pitcher plant: updating ecological associations between pitcher plant flies and their carnivorous hosts. Advisor: Dr. Trip Lamb
Stressful Living on Mountain Out-crops
Ryan O’Connell is studying factors that could negatively impact populations of the imperiled Mountain Golden Heather (Hudsonia montana), which is found in only a few locations in the North Carolina mountains. Because plants often experience more than one environmental stressor at a time, Ryan will examine both soil moisture levels and invasive species abundance simultaneously and separately in monitored plots. He will then measure survival, growth, and seed set of the Mountain Golden Heather and use the collected data to model predicted population changes.

Ryan O’Connell, Duke University
Effects of co-occurring anthropogenic stressors on Hudsonia montana, a critically imperiled North Carolina endemic. Advisor: Dr. William Morris
Bluff Mountain Lichen Community
Bubba Pfeffer plans to study the often overlooked but highly diverse lichen community. His study site is Bluff Mountain, an area known to harbor several rare plant communities, where he will sample lichens in all forest types and on rock outcrops. Because lichens are composite organisms composed of one or multiple species of fungi and algae or cyanobacteria, Bubba will not simply catalogue the species but also document a more functional aspect of the intricate interactions and assemblages that compose the different lichen communities.

Bubba Pfeffer, Appalachian State University
Bluff Mountain lichen community descriptions. Advisor: Dr. Mike Madritch
Genetic diversity of the Endangered Rough-leaved Yellow Loose-strife
Lysimachia asperulifolia (Rough-leaved Yellow Loose-strife), found only in the coastal plain of North and South Carolina, is an endangered species. Jessica Roach’s research will focus on documenting the genetic diversity within nine known populations. The rhizomatous species appears to reproduce sexually at a low rate, so it is vital to understand how clonal the remaining populations are. Her data will contribute to the management and protection of the species.

Jessica Roach, University of North Carolina at Wilmington
A comprehensive population genetics study of Lysimachia asperulifolia (Rough-leaved Yellow Loose-strife) throughout its natural range. Advisor: Dr. Darin Penneys
student in field
Grassland Competition under Simulated Climate Change Conditions
Anita Simha will study climate change impacts on native and non-native grasses. Her research will explore how shifts in the timing of germination and flowering could favor one species over the other. Using an abandoned field, she will simulate early germination of three grassland species in different combinations and document how the competitive dominance of the grasses changes depending on which species germinates first. Because our warming planet can have unforeseen effects on the make-up of plant communities, studies such as Anita’s will be valuable information for future conservation efforts. Anita will also use her research field site as an educational tool for one-day STEM summer camps for Durham Public School students.

Anita Simha, Duke University
Impact of seasonal shifts and resource availability on competitive dominance of an exotic grass in a Piedmont grassland. Advisor: Dr. Justin Wright


Rock Climbing Routes and Sensitive Cliff Face Vegetation
Cliff systems can harbor unique, diverse plant communities, such as glacial relicts and endangered biota, and are dominated by stress-tolerant, often cryptic lichens, bryophytes, and vascular plants. Rock climbing is a major source of human disturbance to cliff ecosystems, but this effect is highly variable due to the unevenness of the rock surface. Preferred rock climbing routes could overlap with specific vegetation communities with detrimental impacts. Georgia Harrison quantified these impacts by conducting vegetation surveys of climbed and unclimbed cliff faces in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. She also created detailed fine mapping of cliff face topography, which she used to show how rock climbing routes could be disrupting ecological succession in lichen communities.

Georgia Harrison, Appalachian State University
Impact of rock-climbing disturbance and microhabitat characteristics on cliff face vegetation communities of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Advisor: Dr. Michael Madritch
read full report
How to control for Chinese Lespedeza when it is helping more Chinese Lespedeza grow
Invasive species are a threat to biodiversity and can be very difficult to control. Sometimes using herbicidal sprays are the only practical solution, although with negative consequences to the native flora. And while we are busy plotting above ground how to rid these aggressive exotics from our gardens and natural areas, below ground some invasives are busy changing the soil environment to their benefit. Matthew Hodges studied both of these issues using the invasive Chinese Lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata) and three native species. Lespedeza formed more root nodules and grew to a larger size in soils previously occupied by Lespedeza, as opposed to soils not previously used by Lespedeza, indicating that the plant does alter the soil property in its favor. Matthew also found the native seedbank was less diverse and bountiful in sprayed soils, signaling that restoration efforts could be more successful by augmenting an area with native flora rather than simply relying on the seedbank. From his work, he also identified possible contenders for use in restoration post-removal of Lespedeza, such as Solidago altissima.

Matthew Hodges, East Carolina University
Investigating the role of soil legacy effects and community engagement in the management of Lespedeza cuneata, an invasive legume. Advisor: Carol Goodwillie
read full report
Surveying the remote Boone Fork headwaters in Grandfather Mountain State Park
The Boone Fork headwaters on the northeastern slope of Calloway Peak represent an area of high natural quality significance, yet there was little plant species or natural community data. The region is characterized by rugged terrain with few trails for access. Undaunted by the remoteness of the area, Ethan Hughes investigated the flora of this region. He documented 262 vascular plant species, 19 epipetric mosses, and 18 distinct natural communities. Twenty-four vascular plant species found during field surveys were categorized as state-listed or federally listed, and three identifications represent new county records. In addition to hiking the region conducting surveys, Ethan also spent time researching the botanists who came before him. Using literature and herbarium database searches and personal communications, Ethan highlighted four scientists who played a role shaping the botanical knowledge of the region: Asa Gray, Rev. Moses Ashley Curtis, John K. Small and Amos A. Heller.

Ethan Hughes, Appalachian State University
The flora of the Boone Fork headwaters within Grandfather Mountain State Park. Advisor: Zack Murrell
read full report
David De La Mater, Duke University
Effects of elevated temperatures and eutrophication on plant-herbivore interactions and impacts on a salt marsh foundation species. Advisor: Justin Wright

Michael Kunz, UNC- Chapel Hill
Population ecology of Astragalus michauxii, a rare southeastern US endemic species. Advisor: Alan Weakley

Greg Wilson, North Carolina State University
Pollination ecology and local adaptation of Echinacea laevigata (Asteraceae) in woodland and open microhabitats at Picture Creek Diabase Barrens. Advisor: Alexander Krings


Katherine Culatta, North Carolina State University
Taxonomy, population genetics, and status assessment of Nuphar sagittifolia (Nymphaeaceae) Advisor: Dr. Alexander Krings

Laura Hamon, North Carolina State University
Pollination ecology of Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Irwin

Bryan Piatkowski, Duke University
Systematics, molecular evolution, and functional trait variation in the Sphagnum magellanicum (Sphagnaceae) species complex. Advisor: Dr. Jon Shaw

Ellen Quinlan, Western Carolina University
Phylogenetic history and variation in water-use efficiency of mountain and coastal populations of Kalmia buxifolia. Advisor: Dr. Katherine Mathews

Marietta Shattelroe, Appalachian State University
Genetic diversity of Geum geniculatum.Advisor: Dr. Matt C. Estep

Alexandria Szakacs, North Carolina State University
Reconstructing the vegetation history of a Piedmont prairie remnant using soil phytoliths. Advisor: Dr. Alexander Krings


Ashley M. Dow, East Carolina University
Native plants as viable pollinator habitat on solar panel farms in eastern North Carolina. Advisor: Dr. Claudia Jolls


Andrea Thompson, North Carolina State University
Solidago spithamaea: Study in population viability. Advisor: Dr. Gary B. Blank

Rachel Kelsy Stillwell, Western Carolina University
Microsatellite marker optimization and gene flow analysis between species of the erectum complex of Trillium. Advisor: Dr. Katherine Mathews


Michelle D’Aguillo, Duke University
Germination ecology of two southern Appalachian natives, Houstonia caerulea and H. serpyllifolia (Rubiaceae). Advisor: Dr. Kathleen Donohue

Rebecca M. Dalton, Duke University
Changes to flowering phenology in native wildflower communities in North Carolina. Advisor: Dr. William Morris

Gary Perlmutter, North Carolina State University
Traffic emissions effects on forest lichen communities in North Carolina. Advisor: Dr. Gary Blank


Reneé Fortner, East Carolina University
The reproductive ecology of the federally endangered Cooley’s Meadowrue (Thalictrum cooleyi Ahles). Advisor: Dr. Claudia Jolls

Kipp Callahan, North Carolina State University
The vascular flora of Pondberry Bay (Sampson County, NC). Advisor: Dr. Alexander Krings

Nathan Howell, North Carolina State University
The vascular flora of the natural lake shoreline community of Carolina bays in the Carolina flatwoods and Mid-Atlantic floodplains and low terraces ecoregions (Bladen and Columbus Counties, North Carolina). Advisor: Dr. Alexander Krings


Amanda Faucette, North Carolina State University
The Vascular Flora and Soils of Buxton Woods (Dare County, NC). Advisor: Dr. Alexander Krings

Kyle Palmquist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The joint effects of drought and reduced fire frequency on native orchids in the Green Swamp Preserve, North Carolina. Advisor: Dr. Alan Weakley