Matt Candeias is a botanical researcher and Ph.D. candidate focusing on how plants respond to climate change. He took time out of a summer day of data collection to talk with us about discovering his passions, working on his most recent project, and sharing his findings with others.
Matt unexpectedly discovered his passion for plants and botany in what he describes as “one of the strangest places in the world,” the bottom of a quarry. At the time, Matt was working for a mining company, where he ensured they had the proper environmental permits to operate. He was then placed on a side project and tasked with restoring an old sand and gravel pit. Here, Candeias discovered the importance of plants as the foundation of any healthy ecosystem.
After this revelation, Matt began working in botanist positions across the United States. This further confirmed his love for ecological sciences, and he went back to school to earn a master’s degree, which unleashed his passion for the scientific process. He is now pursuing a Ph.D. and is currently collecting research data for his chosen field of study.
Candeias’s current project is rooted in the field of plant conservation. He is studying how plants living in the dense forests of southern Appalachia cope with rapid changes in the environment. The Appalachian Mountains are an ideal location for this project because they are, as Matt explained, “a biodiversity hotspot with plants that grow nowhere else in the world.” In order to test how different plants respond to sudden environmental changes, Matt moves them around the mountain and measures how they respond over the following years. He collects data about the soil moisture, temperature, and sunlight at the different locations, and he measures plant growth to determine the plants’ responses to different environments. He also collects soil samples to analyze back at his lab. This research intends to mimic how plants will adapt to climate change.
The tasks for this project also vary from season to season. In the summer months, Matt is outside from sunrise to sunset, at different study sites, measuring plant changes and environmental factors. In the winter, Candeias cannot visit the field sites and instead spends time in the lab, organizing and analyzing the data collected during the warmer months. He utilizes the R statistical software environment to complete most of this work.
While it is still early on, Matt has so far recorded that several endemic plant species (species that are found in only one location and are therefore at greater risk of extinction) have the capacity to adapt to rapid environmental changes. However, if changes occur too quickly, some of the species can not adapt in time. These findings are largely tied to the availability of soil nutrients and water in the new environment. Candeias noted that these are still early findings, and he is still collecting further data to support his results.
In addition to his passion for researching plants, Matt also loves sharing information about botany with others. This prompted him to start his own website, InDefenseofPlants.com, about five years ago. While working in the botany field, Matt realized that a lot of people he interacted with were very focused on the medicinal values of certain plants. He instead wanted to share with his audience “how fascinating plants are as living, breathing organisms,” so he began writing articles about topics he himself would want to read about, and later expanded into podcasts and video production. Matt explained, “We wanted to work on giving plants the attention they deserve. I think In Defense of Plants is doing its little part to cure plant blindness.”
Candeias is a great example of the amazing work that can be accomplished when a researcher has discovered their true passion. While expanding the availability of research data on plant response to climate change, he is simultaneously educating and engaging others in the wonderful world of botany.
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