Mentorship award

My mentees are the best!

I’ve had the HUGE honor of receiving the Carol D. Soc Distinguished Graduate Student Mentoring Award!! This is a huge deal–I can’t think of an honor that would mean more to me. And, really, it’s a testament to how awesome the extended rLab graduate students are–mentorship awards are really menteeship awards, after all. Thank you all so much!!!!

We also got to go to a sweet ceremony/reception. With light snacks!

We are so great!
I look like my dad.
They gave me a crystal!
Paparazzi in action.
Ixchel killed it.

Full circle field trip


We went to the field. Again!

One of the rlab’s first field trips was to Jepson Prairie, one of the few remaining high quality vernal pools in California, and chock-full of crazy plants. This March (yes, this post is overdue) Jenna made a norCal visit, providing us with the perfect excuse to visit the prairie again. It was so good to be back–I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Look at that botanist!
Sonia was SO patient with Conrad. Conrad over a month later: “Sonia loves me very much”.



Mt Diablo

We went in the field! In all three dimensions! Four, I guess, technically.

There, were, like, plants everywhere. It was great!

We set a blistering pace, as you can see here.


Look at all these liverworts David found! (Targionia, Asterella californica)


And Ixchel’s Bane, this weird leafy Fossombronia


And I had the pleasure of misidentifying a California fern! Don’t worry folks, the PI always knows what he’s talking about. Any takers for what species this actually is?



Rothfels Lab Secret Santa

Extensive Geographic Sampling Reveals Potential Role of Gifts on Facial Responses in Human Test Subjects


Six scientists (‘Secret Santas’) randomly drew (without replacement) the name of one of the other scientists (‘Santees’). Scientists were broadly distributed throughout the Pacific Ocean and the Continental United States (Fig. S1). An algorithm, DrawNames, was used to ensure that no one drew their own name (see SI Appendix for details). A gift was purchased by each participant. Each gift was then anonymously delivered to each participant’s Santee.

Upon receipt of a gift, each Santee diligently avoided opening their gift prematurely. Gifts were then opened during a special ceremony held on Dec 16th, 2021. Zoom was used to allow remote Santas to attend the ceremony. Sliver was used to make pizza.


One of six Santas was unable to ensure their gift was delivered anonymously. One of six Santees reported contamination from another Secret Santa study; in this case, the contaminant gift was discarded and the protocol repeated until an uncontaminated gift was recovered. The null hypothesis that Santees would be unable to guess the identity of their Santa was rejected (p = 0.0013).

A good time was had by all (Fig. 1).

Author Contributions

IGR conceived the research; IGR conducted the experiment; IGR, CMT, JBE, DA, CJR, MRM participated in the study; MRM drafted the manuscript.

Figure 1. Top left) Participants located in Berkeley, CA, met at VLSB to conduct the experiment. (top row, left to right: Mike, Carl [in comfortable Christmas Ghost costume], David; bottom row: Ixchel). Top right) Participants in Hawaii lounged on their couches with their sleepy dogs (left to right: Carrie, Kula). Bottom) One participant in Idaho actually received a small infant as their Secret Santa gift (left to right: Jenna, Leo).

The Trouble with Songs

Is that they go on to bigger and better things!*

Congratulations Dr. Mick Song!!

Mick pulled off an epic mid-pandemic thesis blitz and finishing talk–congratulations Mick! You’ll be missed. Well, actually, you’re missed already! (I’m tardy in my blog posting)

I did my best to catch Mick mid-word.



For those that missed the main event, here at least are my introductory slides (minus the animations). You can use your imaginations as to the narrative.


*including, presumably, Russian poetry, fine wine, and sticking it to the bourgeoisie.


Forrest takes the PI to the field

I went to the field! It’s been a looog time. As part of our Azolla (sub)project for the California Conservation Genomics (master) Project (CCGP), Forrest and I scheduled a day in the Central Valley. How hot could it be? (Answer: 103 degrees. Also, our vehicle didn’t have air conditioning. And I’ve grown soft.) We had some sites targeted based on recent iNaturalist observations, and also planned on exploring the rice cultivation areas in Sutter County. Azolla is hard to predict, but we needn’t have worried–we ended up sampling 14 populations for the day!

Forrest in action I. I am becoming less fond of Schoenoplectus.


Forrest in action II, in some high quality Azolla habitat.


Speaking of high quality Azolla habitat…


Or this. (We did find it in some nice riverine settings, too, to be fair).


We did also enjoy ourselves a good angiosperm here and there (this is Sesbania, apparently).


Or even this (hi Isaac!). Um, what is this? (DYC)


Vascular-free plants were not free from our attention, either. (Hornwort sp.)


And we even stooped to the level of vertebrates, if they were cute enough. (Western Toad).


HOWEVER — a new smut!!! The clear non-Azolla highlight. By new, I mean that I hadn’t seen it before. Which is saying very little–it was common enough that I got to be able to identify it as we drove by on the interstate. (My pandemic smut hobby may be a feature of a future blog entry). (Sporosorium cruentum, Johnsongrass Smut)

End of Semester Barbecue

slash Dr. Mick Song Extravaganza!


After several failed attempts, rlab-and-friends finally managed to convene for our first in-person gathering in 2021! (Of course, all participants were fully vaccinated.) Despite a heat wave pushing temperatures into the mid 90s (F), a good time was had by all. In particular, we were all glad we weren’t in a some boring place, like Hawaiʻi.

Highlights included: an epic water melon contest between a traditional green watermelon, and some sort of yellow “watermelon”; a cuddly musteline; funny hats; impromptu bird watching; and something called cheerwine, which is basically just Dr. Pepper. Speaking of doctors, Carl also took this opportunity to induct Dr. Mick Song into official Doctorhood! Congrats Dr. Song!!

Also, Isaac and Sophie enjoyed the barbecue so much that they got married a few days later! Congrats Isaac and Sophie!!


Drs. Rothfels and Song presiding. Melons in foreground. Left to right: Priscilla, Ixchel, Mike, Isaac, David, Carl, Dr. Song, Marianne, Fern and Forrest (too cool for school). Musteline not depicted. Photo credit: Sophie and Carl’s iphone.

The Trouble with Tribbles*

Is that they graduate and go on to bigger and better things!


Congratulations Dr. Tribble!!!!!! Dynamite thesis in the bag, now just the lollipop to go.



Carrie, and Mary, and Gio, and Bomarea, doing some celebrating. There may also be mezcal.


We will have more socially distanced celebrations before Carrie leaves for her postdoc in the Zenil-Ferguson lab, in Hawaii; in the interim, here are some outtakes from our practice round:



*Little known but much beloved fact**: Tribbles, of Trouble with Tribbles fame, are named in honor of Carrie’s grandfather!


**Unclear whether this is actually a fact.


Joyce’s research on lianas hits the news

Rlab alum Joyce appears in The New York Times

Published on August 1, an article in The New York Times called “How Woody Vines Do the Twist” put a spotlight on former rLab member Joyce Chery. Now a very-soon-to-be-professor at Cornell University, Joyce studies woody vines, known as lianas, in an attempt to understand the fundamental question of how plants evolved the ability to climb.

Over the course of her research, Joyce has identified five different ways in which the lianas of the maple family, Sapindaceae, can develop. These newly described developmental programs deviate from the typical stem development of trees and shrubs, and result in mature plants with irregular configurations of their water and sugar conducting cells.

Through careful anatomical study, Joyce realized that all of the unusual mature wood types developmentally trace back to the same modification that occurs during early plant development. Instead of the expected circular stem with equally distributed vascular tissue that is found in most trees, in these lianas, the early plant stem is star shaped with clumps of cells, or vascular bundles, distributed unevenly. By placing development into a phylogenetic context, it was additionally revealed that the novel star-shaped young plant is also the evolutionary precursor to all forms of irregular wood formation.

As stated in the article, discovering the structure of lianas is an important step in understanding their ability to outmaneuver trees and sometimes become overabundant — something that can affect the storage of carbon in a forest.

In addition to being able to read this article online, a version of the story appears in the August 4 print edition of The New York Times.

Joyce poses with a copy of the newspaper featuring her research.