Lab People: Jenna Leblanc studies prairie grassland restoration in Alberta

Plant growth standMy favourite plant family is the grasses. So, I was delighted when Jenna Leblanc contacted me about doing a PhD at York, for which the field work in restoration ecology of prairie plant communities would be done in Alberta at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park in Calgary, where Jenna had been a member of the park staff in the past.

Jenna studying grasses in her kitchen 2020In April 2020, when Jenna's carefully planned first field season was cancelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, I shipped her a plant light stand (right), and she turned her kitchen into a lab. and greenhouse, studying the seed germination ecology and shoot demography of the dominant grass species, Festuca campestris and F. hallii, from her field sites. In the last two and half years, Jenna has shown remarkable resilience and flexibility in adapting her PhD research to the constantly evolving pandemic situation. Along the way, she has provided stellar mentorship and pedagogical support to the undergraduates doing Biology Honours Theses in my lab. and students in the courses for which she was a Teaching Assistant.

Jenna Leblanc on the stage at the Know ShowJenna did make it to Alberta this past summer, for a short field season ahead of her PhD preliminary examination in September. Here is the leaflet that she designed to answer questions that park visitors may have had about her research: Jenna field research brochure 2021

As I got to know more about her, I was delighted to discover that Jenna's undergraduate degree was not only in Biology, but also History, which brought an additional engaging dimension when, in Winter Term 2020, she gave a guest lecture in Applied Plant Ecology. Jenna also has a keen interest in promoting Public Science, and while a Master's student at the University of Toronto, she co-founded the live improv Know Show, which ran until February 2020 (left).

Jenna's Biography (in her own words)

My doctoral research examines the ecology of systemic fungal endophytes of Festuca hallii and F. campestris, two long-lived, foundational species of indigenous rough fescue grass species, and the role that endophytes may play in the ecological restoration of rough fescue grasslands in Alberta.

I joined the Bazely Lab in 2019 after completing a Masters of Environmental Science at the University of Toronto, and a Bachelor of Science in Biology at St. Mary’s University in Calgary, Alberta.

I am a keen naturalist, and at heart, a prairie girl, with a long-term interest in the restoration ecology of threatened native fescue grasslands in Alberta. However, my 2020 field season was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so I pivoted to an in-depth autecological study of the grasslands’ foundational species, Rough fescue (Festuca hallii and F. campestris).

This pivot, and the novel discoveries it generated, were documented in a People’s Choice award-winning talk, Making lemons from lemonade: PhD research in a pandemic, presented at the 46th Annual YorkU AGSBS Biology Symposium which was postponed to August 2020. The talk will soon be posted on my Vimeo channel.

In 2021, I returned to the field, to study Rough fescue grasses in situ at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Earlier this year, I spoke about my experiences as an invasive plant management practitioner in the Invasive Species Centre webinar series. My talk was titled: Weedbusters: The trials, tribulations, and toolbox of an invasive plant management practitioner.

My other interests include birdwatching, cooking, and pondering the ecosystem dynamics of the Hoenn Region while playing Pokémon: Alpha Sapphire.