Wildlife conservation major Jessica Fitzpatrick of Chesapeake, Virginia, spent part of her junior year studying the federally endangered plant species Michaux’s sumac under a Fralin Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which provides recipients $1,000 to conduct research with a faculty mentor.

Under the guidance of Verl Emrick, a research scientist with the college’s Conservation Management Institute, Fitzpatrick collected data on the population density of Michaux’s sumac, which reproduces primarily through vegetative or asexual reproduction, as well as the nutrient status of the soil where the shrub grows.

The research team Fitzpatrick worked with found that the plant favors soils with a neutral pH and that both the soil temperature and the size of the plant’s rhizome (an underground stem) influence the success of propagation in the greenhouse. The team used its findings to propagate approximately 100 small plants from existing plants. Fitzpatrick hopes to continue her research in order to support the recovery and potential delisting of Michaux’s sumac.

Although she never imagined she would be working with endangered species, Fitzpatrick seems to have found a new calling. “This rewarding work has inspired me to search for more research involving endangered species, and I aspire to have a career in that field after graduation,” she noted. Fitzpatrick presented her findings at a showcase in Fralin Hall in the spring.