Nishanta "Nishi" Rajakaruna

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Nishanta “Nishi” Rajakaruna

B.A. Human Ecology, College of the Atlantic, Maine – 1994
M.S Botany, University of British Columbia, Canada – 1998
Ph.D. Botany, University of British Columbia, Canada – 2003

My Bio



Research Associates (Winter 2020-)

Ryan O’Dell

B.S. Plant Biology. University of California, Davis. 2002.
M.S. Soils and Biogeochemistry. University of California, Davis. 2005.

Ryan is a Natural Resource Specialist (Botany/Soils/Paleontology) with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Central Coast Field Office in Marina, California (since 2007). The BLM Central Coast Field Office manages about 300,000 acres of Federal public lands in the South Coast Ranges – mostly in Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, and Fresno Counties (western portion).  His education and training is in terrestrial plant ecology and soil science with an emphasis in wildland ecosystem processes, restoration, and rare plant species conservation.  The focus of his work with BLM is rare and endangered plant species conservation and recovery and understanding how land use and natural ecosystem processes influence vegetation type and individual plant species distribution and abundance.  He is particularly interested in plant edaphic endemism and plant species distributions with respect to geology, soil type, topography, and climate.  Most of his recent work on extreme substrate plant ecology has been on serpentine at San Benito Mountain (southern San Benito County) and saline, vertic clay soils in the San Joaquin Desert (western Fresno County).  Ryan specializes in the species taxonomy and ecology of the plant families Onagraceae (Camissonia), Polemoniaceae (Gilia), annual Brassicaceae (Caulanthus-Streptanthus), and tarweeds in Asteraceae.

Ryan’s CV


Graduate Students (2017 Fall-)

Paul Excoffier (Fall 2017-Current)

B.A. Human Ecology, College of the Atlantic, Maine – 2015

Paul’s CV

Paul’s Project: Seed Longevity and Climate Tolerance of San Joaquin Woolly Threads (Monolopia congdonii)


Rosie Murphy-Deak (Fall 2019-)

B.S. Environmental Science and Management, UC Davis – 2013

Rosie’s CV

Rosie’s Project: In collaboration with the United States Forest Service, Rosie’s project aims to track the effects that a controlled burn has on a meadow named Mesa Bluff in the San Bernardino mountains. The goal of the fire treatment is to reduce invasion from Pinus contorta in the meadow, which has also been manually thinned. The study would focus on botanical communities, hydrogeomorphic conditions, and the surrounding forested area before and after the burn. The goal of the research is to assess whether fire has a positive influence on meadow composition, which could be defined as having more species and or having more obligate wetland species.


Michael Mulroy (Fall 2019-)

B.A. Environmental Analysis, Pomona College, CA – 2010

Michael’s CV

Michael’s Project: Michael plans to study saxicolous lichen communities of serpentinite rock outcrops along a coast-inland environmental gradient. His study will compare lichen community characteristics, including species composition and percent cover, as well as substrate characteristics, including elemental composition and surface texture, along a coast-inland gradient. Paired non-serpentinite rocks nearby serpentine study sites will also be sampled. The provisional goals of the project are 1) to study how saxicolous lichen communities change along a coast-inland gradient, 2) to compare how maritime influence might differentially impact saxicolous lichen communities on different rock substrates, and 3) elucidate the role of rock elemental composition and surface texture on lichen community structure and composition.


Eli Balderas (Fall 2020-)

B.S. in Environmental Studies, University of California Santa Barbara (2019)

Topic: Distribution and ecology of Sulcaria isidiifera, the splitting yarn lichen, a rare endemic restricted to parts of San Luis Obispo County

Eli’s CV


Emma Fryer (Fall 2020-)

B.S., Botany, summa cum laude. Humboldt State University, CA (2016)

Topic: Ecology of vertic clay-endemic plant communities in the San Joaquin Desert

Emma’s CV


Recent Undergraduate Research Student (2018-Spring 2020)

Alex Pena (Senior): Evolutionary Ecology of Layia glandulosa-L. discoidea (Asteraceae) complex


Dylan Stephens (Senior) – Evolutionary Ecology of Chorizanthe breweri-C. aphanantha (Polygonaceae)


Zach Raposo (Senior) – Effects of Fire and Fire-Retardant (Phos-Chek) on Plant Diversity of North- and South-facing slopes of Serpentinite and Metavolcanic Soils


Anthony Ferrero (Senior) – Post-fire effects on microbes of adjacent serpentinite and metavolcanic soils


Peter Walsh (Senior) – Ionic interactions on nickel uptake in Streptanthus polygaloides (Brassicaceae)


Reid Dawley (Senior) – Phytoremediation of Chromite Mine Soils from Irish Hills, San Luis Obispo


Former Undergraduate Research Students (2017 Fall-2018 Summer)

Christopher Howington (Senior, Environmental Earth and Soil Sciences) – Fall 2017-Summer 2018

Project: Post-fire seedling recruitment and regeneration on serpentine and metavolcanic soils at Poly Canyon


Peter Walsh (Sophomore, Biology) – Fall 2017-Spring 2018; Fall 2018-Spring 2020

Project: Influence of heavy metals, water stress and other abiotic conditions on anthocyanin content in the sepals of Streptanthus polygoloides



Anthony Ferrero (Sophomore, Microbiology) – Fall 2017-Spring 2020

Project: Is metal hyperaccumulation in Streptanthus polygaloides influenced by mycorrhizae and other soil microbes?


Samuel Farrow  (Junior, Biological Sciences) – Fall 2017-Spring 2018

Project: Local adaptation to substrate in common California shrubs; Local adaptation to soils in Lasthenia and Layia spp.


Gabriella Orta (Senior, Environmental Management and Protection) – Fall 2017-Spring 2018

Project: Post-fire seedling recruitment and regeneration on serpentine and metavolcanic soils at Poly Canyon


Michael Bridgeman (Freshman, Environmental Earth and Soil Sciences) – Fall 2017-Fall 2018

Project: The role of abiotic factors on the capsaicin content in Capsicum (chile pepper) spp.


Zach Raposo (Sophomore, Environmental Earth and Soil Science [Geology concentration]) – Fall 2017-Spring 2020

Project: Biotic factors of ‘extreme’ regolith that can potentially be utilized for mineral exploration, phytoremediation, and terraforming concepts


Mary Devlin (Senior, Environmental Earth Sciences) – Winter 2017-Summer 2018

Projects: Nonative and native species population and range response to nitrogen increases in serpentine soils. Germination, early growth, and restoration potential of Bog Thistle (Cirsium fontinale var. obispoense) in serpentine soils


Sean Whitlock (Junior, Environmental Management and Protection [Concentration – Watershed Management and Hydrology]) – Winter 2018-Spring 2018

Project: Post-fire seedling recruitment and regeneration on serpentine and metavolcanic soils at Poly Canyon


Research Assistants (Spring 2018-Summer 2020)

Row 1 – Morgan Morris (left, Sp 2018, F 2019), Jackie Duerksen (middle, Sp 2018), Cora Bishop (right, Sp 2018, F 2018, W 2019)

Row 2 – Charlotte Miranda (left, Sp 2018, F 2019), Freddie Mayer (middle, Sp 2018), Grace Goldrich-Middaugh (left, Sp 2018)

Row 3 – Teiana Cataldo (left, F 2018-Sp 2019), Dylan Stephens (middle, F 2019-Sp 2020); Sophie Parr (right, F 2019)

Row 4 – Alex Pena (left, W 2019-Su 2020), Nicole Argueta (middle, Sp 2019-Sp 2020), Krisy Ramsey (right, W 2019)

Row 5 – Kevin Tran (Sp 2019-Summer 2019), Amanda Gersoff (Summer 2020-current), TJ Samojedny (Spring 2020-current)

Spring, Summer 2021: Alyssa Shon, Aidan Inoue, Skyler McKinnon, Sophia Forstmann


Former Students: Where are they now?

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