Before she became an ecological researcher, Metha Klock spent time on two environmental restoration projects in the Bay Area.
In her first, she worked in a native plant nursery at the Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, coaxing native grasses and shrubs to maturity in an effort to restore the rugged coastline to its natural habitat.
In the second, she spent her days removing invasive plants like poison hemlock and yellow starthistle from the Pearson– Arastradero Preserve in the city of Palo Alto. Klock, a new assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies, grew up in Fairfax in Marin County and was attracted to an academic career that would feed her love of hiking and the outdoors and help her understand the mechanisms that allow invasive plants to thrive. “That’s the big million-dollar question,” Klock says, “and it’s not answered yet.” But she is working on it. After earning a liberal arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College, she got her M.S. in forestry and Ph.D. in biological sciences from Louisiana State University and did her postdoctoral work in sustainable agriculture at Cornell University.
Much of Klock’s scholarship has been associated with the Acacia, a genus of plants native to Australia of which certain species have become invasive in California. Acacias are in the legume family and Klock has grown thousands of the trees in an effort to understand their symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria called rhizobia. Her conclusion? “They’re what we call more promiscuous,” Klock says. “They can associate with more strains of this bacteria, and that gives them a ready source of fertilizer — and that contributes to them being more successful.” Knowing that, Klock says, the best mechanism to keep nonnative plants from becoming invasive may seem simple but is ultimately complex: “It’s not to introduce them,” she says.