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Stacia Hill, a Big Sky High School student, has worked with MPG for 2 years to investigate a naturally occurring cheatgrass pathogen. She used molecular techniques to identify this pathogen as the fungus Ustilago bullata and conducted field surveys to estimate its abundance on the ranch. In the fall of 2011 she examined the ability of Ustilago to control cheatgrass, the most abundant plant on MPG Ranch.

Stacia’s research has been very fruitful. She recently swept the awards presented at the Butte Regional Science Fair, including best of show in the Biological Sciences and first place overall. This accomplishment earned her a trip to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh this May. On behalf of everyone at MPG Ranch, we want to congratulate Stacia for her amazing achievements and wish her the best of luck in upcoming competitions!

Stacia Hill

Photo 1. Stacia estimates the Ustilago bullata abundance in a cheatgrass invasion on MPG Ranch.

Ustlago bullata

Photo 2. Ustilago-infected cheatgrass with millions of spores instead of seeds, which eliminates the seed production of this invasive annual grass.


About the Author

Ylva Lekberg

Ylva graduated from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences with a M.Sc. in Biology and Horticulture in 1996 and a Ph.D. in Ecology from Penn State University in 2004. She received the Alumni Association Dissertation Award for her work in agroecology and subsistence farming in Sub-Saharan Africa. Post-doctoral positions at Montana State University and later at Copenhagen University as a Marie Curie Fellow have allowed her to explore the role of mycorrhiza, a root-fungus symbiosis, for geothermal plants in Yellowstone National Park and coastal grasslands in Denmark. Her research has been published in journals such as Ecology, Journal of Ecology and New Phytologist.

Ylva currently works at MPG Ranch as a soil ecologist. She explores the role of mycorrhiza in the success of exotic plants and examines the use of specific pathogens to combat invasions. In her spare time Ylva mountain-bikes, plays soccer, and maintains a large vegetable garden.