Map of climate zone classification of the two field stations.

Fieldwork is essential to demonstrate the ecological relevance of behavioral, developmental or metabolic responses of interacting organisms in realistic environments. We use nature as a laboratory to obtain information about the complex and multitrophic interactions which are mediated by the plant's responses to herbivore attack.

The two nature preserves listed below are located in biogeographically distinct (Köppen climate classification: BwK and Bsk) habitats which differ in altitude, soil type, rainfall, temperature ranges, insect and mammalian herbivore communities, yet share two months of temporal overlap for N. attenuata’s growing seasons of March-June in Utah and May-August in Arizona.

The Department of Molecular Ecology has conducted decades of field releases of transformed Nicotiana attenuata plants in their native habitats, establishing N. attenuata as a model system. To date this is the only example in which nature preserves are used as natural laboratories for rigorous manipulative studies of gene functions.

Beaver Wash, Lytle Preserve Utah.
https://lytle.byu.edu/About/Photos

Lytle Ranch Preserve is owned and run by Brigham Young Univeristy and consists of more than 600 acres at the convergence of  the Great Basin, Colorado Plateau and the Mojave Desert, Southwestern Utah. Situated along the Beaver Dam Wash, at approximately 850 meters above sea level, it is one of the lowest points in Utah, and its unusual combination of geology, elevation, year round water supply and climate supports a diverse range of flora and fauna.

Since 1995 Prof. Ian Baldwin has developed a field station at Lytle Ranch Preserve, where the overarching research objective is to understand how plants use their prodigious chemical abilities to survive in nature. With the long term goal of increasing the ecological sophistication of crop plants, Prof. Baldwin has spent decades training new generations of researchers, focusing on developing natural history perspectives that combine with modern chemistry, molecular biology and informatics to facilitate precise phenotype manipulations to rigorously test functional hypotheses in natural environments.

The field station is well established and has a myriad of equipment and facilities to advance research in the field:

Two laboratory trailers.
Four living trailers.
Shadehouse and pools for growing seedlings. (I.T. Baldwin 2019)
Two one-hectare irrigated field plots. (R. Halitschke 2017)

Since 2008 the Department of Molecular Ecology has hosted students from Brigham Young University (BYU). The three month summer internships engage students in a variety of projects across the department, where they develop skills essential to having a successful career in science.

To date there have been 54 internship participants from BYU.

WCCER laboratory outbuilding. C. Mahadevan 2019

Walnut Creek Center for Education and Research (WCCER) is located in the highlands of western Prescott National Forest in Arizona, just south of the Grand Canyon. The site has perennial creeks, is home to deciduous forests, chapparel and pinyon-juniper woodland zones. WCCER was established in the early 1900s as a ranger station, however from the mid 1990s it was no longer in use and was transformed into an education and research facility.

In association with the Southwest Experimental Garden Array (SEGA) Prof. Baldwin has established a field site for research of the Department of Molecular Ecology since 2010.

Bi-parental RIL population in WCCER. R. Halitscke 2019

The Department of Molecular Ecology has long standing relationships with many Universities both internationally and in Europe.

Dartmouth college - Hanover, New Hampshire, USA

Brigham Young University - Provo, Utah, USA

Friedrich Schiller University - Jena, Germany

University of Konstanz - Konstanz, Germany

South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) - Pretoria, South Africa

Indian Institute of Science and Education (IISER) - various locations, India

National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) - Mexico City, Mexico

See Student Programs for more details.