Brackenridge Introduction: Jack Hatajik


Hello! My name is Jack Hatajik and I am a rising 4th year undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh double majoring in Ecology and Evolution as well as Film and Media Studies. I am also pursuing a Geographic Information System Certificate in correspondence to my professional interests and goals. Throughout my time at Pitt I have joined various clubs including the Club Quidditch team and serve as an executive board member for the University of Pittsburgh Television club (UPTV) and the student-run late night show Pitt Tonight. Beginning in the fall of 2021, I joined Dr. Sara Kuebbing’s laboratory at Pitt and began working with and learning from other researchers in the field of ecology and invasion biology. I began working with Dr. Benjamin Lee, a NSF funded post doctorate at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) and Pitt, in analyzing thousands of digital herbarium specimens of the invasive species garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) to map exactly when and where each was collected. In the spring of 2022, I joined Dr. Tia-Lynn Ashman’s evolutionary biology laboratory at Pitt where I continue to learn how to conduct academic level research. I also began working directly with Dr. Mason Heberling, the Assistant Curator of Botany at the CMNH, to harness more exposure to research taking place in the field of botany. Upon building these relationships with scientists who specialize in a variety of research, I was inspired to develop a research project.

With the constant encouragement and direction from Drs. Lee, Ashman, Heberling, Kuebbing, and all who work with them, I have the confidence to explore research questions of my own. This summer I have been given the incredible opportunity to conduct this independent research project with the support of the University Honors College Brackenridge Fellowship. This unique fellowship grants me the ability to create a project that combines my interests in both ecology and film. Additionally, the ability to discuss my research among other passionate researchers from a diverse set of disciplines and backgrounds is invaluable in practicing my community engagement. I also am able to learn about research being conducting in fields other than my own in which I will broaden my understanding of research methodology and development.

Research Project

This summer I am researching the population dynamics of the invasive species garlic mustard in response to climate and time throughout Pennsylvania with the help of my research mentors Drs. Lee and Ashman. Literature that focuses on garlic mustard suggests that it’s success has declined over time. In other words, some research suggests that the longer a population has been at a certain site the less prominent it becomes. Some have pointed to the increase of frequency of extreme climate events as possible explanations for this reduction while others have sited a decline in it’s allelopathic, or chemical, abilities. I plan to address the following hypotheses: H1) garlic mustard invasion dynamics and population-level properties will be best explained by environmental drivers such as temperature and precipitation; H2) instead, garlic mustard abundance and persistence will be best-explained by estimated time since invasion and levels of observed chemical ability across field sites; and H3) garlic mustard distribution, abundance, and persistence will be explained best by some combination of H1 and H2. With the help of Dr. Lee, I have already mapped the difference in time of invasion throughout Pennsylvania using thousands of digital herbarium specimens. I will be traveling to approximately 15-20 state parks to survey the abundance of garlic mustard and will take various phenotypic (physical trait) measurements such as height and number of flowers. Also, I will be noting the species that are growing alongside these populations of garlic mustard to measure percent cover. Finally, I am collecting samples of garlic mustard flowers and fruit from an individual at each site for further analysis in the laboratory. This methodology will allow me to address each of my hypotheses efficiently and effectively. According to the USDA, over the past 50 years, the economic cost of invasive species in the U.S. is approximately $1.288 trillion dollars. Although this research is limited to one species, it will provide a valuable resource for professionals working in land management and will inform the general public about the effects of invasive species as a whole. Alongside this research, I will be filming and assembling together a short nature documentary about this project and garlic mustard itself. This film will be used for public outreach and education in regard to scientific practice and invasive biological mechanisms. I will use the skills I have developed through my film major and the experiences I have had with my film and television focused clubs to create this film.

Future Goals

l will be presenting a poster of my research at the Botanical Society of America’s annual Botany conference this July in Anchorage, Alaska. This will be the perfect opportunity to showcase my research for professionals whom I plan to work with in the near future. I also plan to publish my research in an ecologically focused peer-reviewed journal. After I graduate, I plan to pursue a Master’s Degree in ecology or equivalent discipline where I hope to conduct more independent research projects in similar areas of study. Once I complete my education, I plan to work for the federal government or NGO specializing in either wildlife and/or endangered species conservation, botanical sciences, invasion biology, etc. This Brackenridge Fellowship is a wonderful keystone in the development of my research and professional skills and will help me expand upon the interdisciplinary nature of my passions. Studying alongside others who share the same desire to venture within multiple spaces of research is a pleasure and I am very excited to get started!

Photo of me filming garlic mustard in Trillium Trail in Fox Chapel (May 6th, 2022)
Photo of a garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) individual in Pymatuning State Park in Pennsylvania (May 12th, 2022)

Leave a Reply