Peyton Smith ’25


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Project Title

Plant Pathogens in a High-altitude System

Certificate(s): American Studies

I investigated the effect of elevation on the spread of a fungal pathogen, flax rust (Melampsora lini), on Lewis flax (Linum lewisii), a purple wildflower in the Rocky Mountains. Though this plant pathogen system has been investigated as a model of molecular plant-fungal interactions for decades, little is known about how climate change may affect its spread within and between hosts. We studied the impact of climate on disease by using replicate elevational transects to collect standardized observations and measurements. Each week, we hiked to the transects to survey plants for rust. The data we collected will be used to understand further and model plant-pathogen interactions, which could inform agricultural practices to support food security in the coming decades. In addition to fieldwork, I gained experience using the software R for image analysis and spatial data. I have long been interested in host-pathogen interactions in humans, but this project introduced me to the intricate world of disease ecology and plant pathogens. Consequently, I developed an appreciation for the complicated nature of these coevolved plant-pathogen systems that will frame my future research.

Internship Year


Project Category

Climate and Environmental Science


Metcalf Lab, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University - Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Gothic, Colorado


C. Jessica E. Metcalf, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs, Princeton University; Keenan Duggal, Research Associate, High Meadows Environmental Institute, Princeton University; Juliana Jiranek, Ph.D. candidate, Biology, University of Virginia