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Elizabeth Stunz


  • Time Zone

  • Gender

  • Organization
    University of Texas at El Paso

  • Employment Status
    University / College Graduate Student

  • Role
    Scientist Mentor: I will mentor teams of students online

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    My research interests revolve around plant evolution and landscape genetics. I am working with my advisor, Dr. Michael Moody, on a National Science Foundation funded project to evaluate local adaptation in the context of climate change in tussock cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum) populations occurring along a latitudinal gradient in northern/central Alaska. The tussock cottongrass is an important component of the moist tundra ecosystem and supports a variety of other organisms due to its mound-like growth habit and nutrient cycling. My dissertation will include investigation of processes such as local adaptation, gene flow and phylogeography. By extracting DNA from leaf samples and using RAD sequencing to obtain DNA sequences, we can investigate the processes occurring in these populations. International tussock cottongrass populations will also be included for further comparisons of genetic variability. In addition, I will analyze gene flow among dwarf birch (Betula nana) populations. As the climate warms and permafrost thaws, shrubs like dwarf birch are expanding their ranges northward, which will cause competition for tussock cottongrass. Increasing understanding of the genetic variability, local adaptation and potential for shifts in range of tussock cottongrass is essential to promote conservation of this plant species (and the many organisms dependent on it) as the tundra warms. Promoting conservation of wild plant species is a strong interest of mine. Also, I enjoy researching plant systematics, plant physiology and conservation genetics.

  • Profile Question 1
    What is your favorite plant? Why?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    I have multiple favorite plants and plant families, but my favorite plant in El Paso is the ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens). The ocotillo has a unique habit due to its long, unbranching stems and miniscule trunk. The shrub grows small round leaves when rainfall occurs, but has developed tactics to tolerate severe drought conditions. Although the shrub may look dead when leaves aren't present, it can actually photosynthesize with its stems, which is an impressive and rare feat for a plant. In the spring beautiful, bright red, tubular clusters of flowers grow at the end of the stems. The Fouquieria genus is the sole genus in the family Fouquieriaceae, indicating just how truly unique the ocotillo is.

  • Profile Question 2
    When and why did you decide to go into a science career?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    I decided to go into a science career a little further down the road than most graduate students I know. I received my B.A. from the University of Idaho, double majoring in Creative Writing and French. I will always harbor a passion for language, but finishing my degree was not a formative experience for me—I had no idea what I wanted to do and lacked specialized skills for any one career. One thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to become more fluent in French, so I made arrangements to travel to Québec and volunteer on vegetable farms with the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program. In Québec, I continued to progress with French while forming long-standing relationships with the farmers and their families. I thrived in an atmosphere that promoted exchange at so many levels. After six months I made my way back to the Pacific Northwest. I expanded my farming experience and spent a few months volunteering on farms closer to home. At the first vegetable farm in northern California I had my breakthrough moment while helping another ‘wwoofer’ care for some seedlings growing in cold frames. I realized just how much energy and information (stored in the genetic material) is present inside one little seed and how incredible that is. I returned to the University of Idaho to study plant science and have pursued botanical research opportunities ever since.

  • Profile Question 3
    What is a typical day like for you?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    A typical day begins by me getting out the door by 9:30 am and riding my bike 5 miles to campus. Once class is out at noon I grab lunch and then head into the lab. I may be extracting DNA from silica-dried plant leaves, using Bioinformatics methods to evaluate DNA sequences, or reading scientific articles to improve my understanding of landscape genetics and methodology, and I will spend 5 or 6 hours doing such work (which goes quickly when spent doing what you are passionate about). Then, I head outside and ride my bike home. After eating dinner and maybe going for a swim I read more scientific articles, do homework and work on my dissertation proposal. Then, I play on my electronic drums for 20 minutes, go do dishes, hang out with my cat, stretch, and head to bed.

  • Availability
    I am currently available for mentoring, please send me team match invitations

  • Capacity: How many teams at a time are you comfortable working with?

Recent Posts


Thanks for the updates, Team! I think that 5 drops of water is not enough to moisten the top level of soil consistently. This might be why germination is so inconsistent. Do you add 5 drops of water everyday?


Also, the amount of seeds germinating in the sand is impressive and it is a good hypothesis about weakened plant roots. How could you test this? 

The first push of germination and growth of seedlings is aided by nutrients in the endosperm of the seed. Once the roots start establishing they need to take up nutrients from the soil (or sand or sand/soil) around them to maintain healthy growth. If stems get too long and pale then the plant is ‘etiolated,’ meaning that it is not growing well and is unhealthy. How do you think this might relate to what you are seeing with your plants growing in the all sand treatment?


 I look forward to hearing more about your experiment soon! 


Hi Noah! Good to have you on the team! What activities do you enjoy and what is your favorite plant?


Hi Team!

Thanks for the update. 

How many days has your experiment been running now? Also, how does this germination pattern differ from what you might have expected? Did you think more seeds would germinate at the same time? Did you expect so much germination in your 100% sand treatment and why do you think the 1/4 sand treatment germination is so low? Is the 1/4 sand treatment the one with sand on top (it was a little hard to tell from the photos)?

Finally, what kind of watering schedule do you have for your seeds? 

I look forward to hearing more about your experiment as it progresses. Thanks for the photos!

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