A Summer Traipsing Around New England
- By Elisabeth Fenn
This summer I had the privilege of working with two of UVM’s graduate students, Helen Yurchenco and Chenin Limback. My task was to assist them with their field research, a task that over the course of the summer took me to state parks across Vermont and one very special patch of trees in northern New Hampshire, none other than Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest.
In essence my summer consisted of long days spent hiking through the woods or tromping down a gorge trail, otherwise known as fieldwork. Chenin was studying both native and invasive species pollinators with the hope to better understand propagation and perhaps one day be able to control the spread of invasives, and to use native plant data as a control. On my forays into Vermont with Chenin we visited four sites: Lake Carmi S.P., Quechee Gorge, Allis S. P., and Emerald Lake S. P. At these sites we sampled the insect populations on the invasives: Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), and the native: Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). Sampling included taking basic information such as plan height and density as well as sweeping the plants with a net to collect specimens. Opening the net and transferring the critters inside to a capped test tube was both the most fun and the most difficult part. Flying insects certainly didn’t want to be trapped and were highly skilled at avoiding the tweezers meant to capture and cage them. However it was the giant spider that elicited the greatest reaction as it climbed over hidden folds in the net and popped suddenly into view.
Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest is a place of legend to me, something I had only heard of in class but never thought I would actually get to visit, let alone study. It was this aspect of my summer that initially sold me on the idea of my internship and was the part about which I feel most accomplished. Hubbard Brook is a long-standing study site with an immaculate reputation drawing in professional scientists, but that is not to say it is without fun. While Helen’s work didn’t involve bug nets or dive-bombing flies there is nothing quite like taking a spider web to the face as you bushwhack towards your study site. Helen’s research was two-pronged, one part involving pit-fall traps and beetle collection, and the other cardboard traps for gastropods. Both were new angles for measuring climate change’s effects on the environment, the theory being that reductions in snowpack will affect trees’ roots which in turn affects mineral content of the soil. Calcium is specifically effected; it is essential to gastropods and something which can be tested both by the number of gastropods found as well as more precisely by snail-shell analysis. On days in New Hampshire we emptied the pit-fall traps (a smell unlike any other; two week old stale water and decomposing unknowns) and collected what gastropods and leaf litter was found on the cardboard. I also designed and implemented an independent study of microtopography around each of Helen’s traps.
The microtopography work gave me the chance to research, design, and complete a scientific study. I looked into the lay of the land in a plot 3.14 m2 (or 1 m diameter) around each trap. Data on course woody debris, rocks, vegetative cover, and the topography of the site (mound, depression, or flat) was all collected. I am right now in the process of analyzing the data and writing up a report. My hope is that the information will in some way correlate with Helen’s gastropod findings and be of some use in her thesis.
All in all I had an idyllic summer spent in the woods working with trees and getting a feel for multiple real research projects. Sometimes it was hard to motivate myself to do the independent work required in designing a study when I could have been biking by the lake, but I’m so glad I had this internship because I learned an enormous amount about forestry research and had a fantastic time doing it. For all of you out there reading this and looking for work next summer there will be new grad students, they will need help, and you will definitely love it.