The effects of salinity on germination

One undertaking of the Wright Lab is to work on projects benefitting the Coastal SEES project (Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability). This effort as a whole is dedicated to the understanding of coastal systems through various temporal and spatial measures, producing results that will help make predictions for coastal systems, and finding ways to improve coastal sustainability. These goals are important because coastal areas containing particular freshwater ecosystems like swamps and creeks are expected to be overtaken by saline waters as the sea level rises, and in fact, even now due to soil oxidation, drought, and human influence, salted waters are already beginning to permeate into such ecosystems. With these kinds of changes, the Coastal SEES project holds that it is important to investigate the human and natural processes that are involved in salt intrusion into surface waters along coastal ecosystems.

My particular project specifically observes how different concentrations  of saline water (0, 0.1, 0.5, 1, 2, and 5 ppt) affect the germination of seeds from 16 plants that are native to coastal areas of North Carolina. For my testing, I place 25 seeds from each type of plant in a petri dish. Once all 16 plates are completed, I wet the filter paper in the petri dishes with one of the concentrations of saline water. I repeat this process for each concentration, leaving me with a total of 96 plates per trial. I will complete 5 total trials to ensure consistency in variations of success (assuming there will be such variaions in germination success) between the various salt concentrations for each plant.

Every few days, I note my observations of changes in the dishes, and bring the water level in the dish up to original weight. The most notable changes have been successful germination in many of the seedlings, but another notable change includes the growth of molds which may affect seedling success and is corrected for by removal after recording of presence. Additionally different types of seedlings appear to display signs of coming germination including separating of the seed coat, and such changes are also noted.

Though even the seed germination data alone could serve as a moderate predictor for plant success as saline levels gradually rise, the lab hopes to be able to take well germinated seeds and plant them in soil for continued growth and treatment with saline water to observe the success of the plants. This project could even be expanded further to see what variation in salt level does to growing plants: for example how will decreasing salt stress by a concentration level change the vitality and growth rate of the plant, among other possibilities.

I am excited to see the avenues this project could be taken down based on how many possibilities exist in this general line of thought. For example, in one of the background papers I read in preparation for my lab, seeds that were pretreated with salt later grew into plants that were more resilient when water stress( decreasing access to water) was applied in comparison to seeds that were not pretreated. This would certainly be an interesting pattern if I could produce similar results in support of those found in the paper. Thus, I highly my project because of the room for expansion that it has, the possible implications on a broader scale of results that I might observe, and the relevance of salt water intrusion in modern issues.

Also because trees are just plain lovable.

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