The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Biology student participates in drought tolerance study

By Oscar Gonzalez/@originalgamer1

As parts of Texas suffer drought conditions, one Texas A&M University-San Antonio Biology student has a stake in a one-year study that aims to find out which plants can survive and recover from a drought.

Forrest Cobb, biology senior and technician at the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Resources, is part of a drought survivability study conducted by the institute led by Dr. Calvin Finch, Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Resources urban water program director.

“We’ve got a selection of plants that is representative of San Antonio and Austin landscapes,” said Cobb, adding that researchers are examining how they survive drought conditions. We want to make sure that San Antonio landscapes continue to be green and presentable, and we want real quantitative data on that,” he said.

To control the amount of water plants receive, a metal roof with rain sensors will move across two rails to cover the plants. Photo by Oscar Gonzalez
To control the amount of water plants receive, a metal roof with rain sensors will move across two rails to cover the plants. Photo by Oscar Gonzalez

The study examines 100 of the most popular Central Texas landscape plants to determine the minimum amount of water required by plants to survive and recover after a drought.

Behind an electric fence securing the hogs, a 5,000-square-foot stretch of land in the middle of a greet pasture will act as a drought simulator to several rows of plants. The plants are a mix of native Texas plants along with popular ornamental plants used for landscaping such as the Texas Mountain Laurel, Texas Sage, and Esperanza. On each side of the plants are rails where a metal roof with a rain sensor moves to cover the plants from rain in order to regulate the water the plants receive.

“They’re all going to get watered really well for the first three months so the roots get established since they were just transplanted,” said Cobb. “Once they’re established, then we’ll test their drought response by diminishing the amount of water given to the plants.”

Several groups including San Antonio Water System, San Antonio River Authority, North Texas Municipal Water District and the city of Austin and Georgetown came together to launch the study.

The irrigation system will supply water to the plants. Over the course of the study, the amount of water will diminish. Photo by Oscar Gonzalez
The irrigation system will supply water to the plants. Over the course of the study, the amount of water will diminish. Photo by Oscar Gonzalez

“We’re looking at this study to backup the plants we promote in the City of Austin,” said Christopher Charles, conservation program associate with the Austin Water Utility. “During emergency watering restrictions in Austin, we might have to say no watering so how long can we survive with no watering of landscape plants in Austin.”

On Feb. 14, Finch, Cobb and associates hope to have volunteers to to help transplant the final plants needed for the study. Those interested can go to the San Antonio Water System drought simulator, 1104 Mauerman Road, adjacent to Leon Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. For more info contact Dr. Calvin Finch at 210-227-0292, ext. 207 or via email at calvin.finch@tamu.edu.

Finch hopes that students like Cobb will participate in more studies like his.

“What we see in the future with A&M-San Antonio is a growing relationship as the campus takes in more students that would give more opportunity,” Finch said. “That would be a desirable goal.”

About the Author

Oscar Gonzalez
Oscar Gonzalez
Oscar Gonzalez is a communications-Journalism major and a political science minor. He wrote previously at The Pulse at Palo Alto College. In 2008, he started his own news website and is pursuing a career as a journalist. Oscar has a passion for technology and politics.

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