Awardee: Laurel Thomas
Bio: Laurel is an undergraduate student at UCLA where she is completing her degree in Environmental Science with minors in Conservation Biology and Environmental Engineering. Fittingly named after the California Bay Laurel tree, she is passionate about conserving and increasing access to California native plants and their respective ecosystems. She is working as a habitat restoration technician at the Ballona Wetlands, and is president of a club that conducts habitat restoration on UCLA’s campus. When not in the lab, the classroom, or the field, Laurel loves grabbing boba with friends, cooking vegan food, and exploring new ecosystems via hiking and using iNaturalist.
Laurel Thomas and Dr. Rachel Prunier established two experimental gardens to study local adaptations and plasticity of the California endemic plant, toyon, or Heteromeles arbutifolia. Seeds and leaf samples were collected across toyon’s geographic range in California stretching from Humboldt to Baja, and from the coast to the Sierra Foothills. The two experimental gardens were planted at Blue Oak Ranch UC Natural Reserve in San Jose, California, and at Stunt Ranch UC Natural Reserve in Calabasas, California in the Summer of 2022. Data from this project will inform best practices for conserving toyon and sourcing of toyon individuals for restoration projects.