Summer of Fungi: Looking at Macrofungi Species Richness in Hemlock vs. Birch Forest

1 Sep

My summer research project with fungi began with my interest in the decline of the Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) forest because of two exotic invasive insect species: the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae) and Elongate Hemlock Scale (Fiorinia externa). These two insect pests are likely to cause the die-off of evergreen Eastern Hemlock forests in New England in coming years, resulting in a transition of the dominant tree type in many areas to deciduous Black Birch (Betula lenta). With the help of my SURF advisor Jesse Bellemare, I decided to look at macrofungi species richness in Hemlock versus Birch plots at the MacLeish Field Station and a site in Chesterfield MA. Fungi interact very closely with the trees in their habitat either as mycorrhizae (a symbiotic relationship in which fungi help increase trees’ absorption capabilities), parasites or as decomposers of wood debris and leaves. Given these close interactions, the decline of the Eastern Hemlock could have substantial effects on the fungi community of the Hemlock forest and how nutrients are cycled through these ecosystems.

One potential difference between the fungi communities of Hemlock and Birch forests is how dead wood will be decomposed.  There are two major types of wood decomposition that fungi use to extract nutrients from wood.  Brown rot fungi species are typically associated with conifer forests.  While feeding on dead conifer wood, these fungi do not degrade lignin, a key component of plant cell walls, leaving the wood somewhat intact and retaining organic carbon.  In contrast, white rot fungi species do degrade lignin, leaving highly decomposed wood behind. A change in forest type from coniferous Hemlock to deciduous Birch could change the principle form of decomposition carried out by fungi.  This change would have dramatic impacts on the amount of carbon stored in soil and other ecosystem processes.

The learning curve for identifying mushrooms or fungal “fruiting bodies” was steep. The terminology was bizarre, featuring terms like umbo (a central hump) and squamulose (having small scales), and the sheer number of species that I found in the study plots was initially overwhelming. I quickly realized that making spore prints would be a valuable tool for identification. Using a large piece of glass and plastic drinking cups, I left mushroom caps gill or pore side down overnight to shed their spores, yielding some lovely spore “prints” on the glass below them. These ranged in color from pure white to rusty brown. Once I started making spore prints and gaining more familiarity with the common species, identifying species became like a puzzle, putting the various pieces of information together yielded a genus or species. Crumbly flesh, white spores, red cap probably a Russula species. Basal bulb and veil probably an Amanita.

Amanita specimen.

Amanita specimen.

Spore print.

Spore print.

This first part of the summer was fairly quiet in terms of mushroom diversity, but around mid July the tame, small surveys I had been taking suddenly changed. Rain is a major determinant of fungal fruiting and the wet summer contributed to a massive fruiting. Instead of collecting 20 fruiting bodies per survey I was collecting 92, and sometimes they were very wet and slimy. It was around this time that I became familiar with the smell of rotting mushrooms, which is often very similar to the smell of rotting fish. Some of my samples were also infested with small invertebrates, like springtails, maggot-like worms and slugs. I was convinced on more than one occasion that I was going cause a lab infestation!

It was also around this time that I began to find some interesting and beautiful fruiting bodies. It was exciting to find unusual new species yet to occur in my surveys: coral fungi with delicate branches, small brain-like mushrooms, big colorful boletes that turned bright blue when damaged and Lactarius species that gushed latex when cut.

Lactarius specimen.

Lactarius specimen.

Spathularia velutipes.

Spathularia velutipes.

Ultimately my surveys revealed that the Birch and Hemlock did not differ in terms of overall species richness in the early- to mid-summer. This finding does not mean, however, that some macrofungi species are not dependent on Hemlock or Birch. In the fall semester, I plan to examine the frequencies with which abundant fungi species occur in Hemlock and Birch plots.

-Aliza Fassler is a sophomore student considering a major in Biology. She is originally from Greenfield, MA and loves being outside (even in the winter). Aliza is excited to continue working in the Bellemare lab this fall.

Cook Your Own – with Produce from the Smith Garden

29 Aug

[This is one in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

This summer I held farms stand for seven times in front of Chapin House. When people bought the produce I had grown and collected, I asked them to share their names, nationalities (state of origin if they are American) and their email addresses. I tried to collect the ways people cook the produce from the Smith Community Garden and see whether they may have different cooking methods due to their different cultural background or customs. Here are some of the photos they sent me back.

Bluebs_bowl
Blueberries from Naomi

Naomi is a Smithie from Pennsylvania. This summer, she is a part-time intern with Polly, a botanic garden faculty. Her way of eating blueberries is to have them fresh.

Michelle
Raspberries from Michelle

Michelle is a Smith alumna from Singapore. Her way of enjoy raspberries is to mix them fresh into a self-made raspberry yogurt.

SwissChard
Swiss chard from Mrs. S.

Mrs. S. is a Smith faculty member. She first sauteed the chard stems with olive oil and garlic for approximately five minutes, and then added the chard leaves for a few minutes just until they wilted. She also added a little lemon juice and parmesan cheese on top.

Chard2
Chard dish from Fiona

Fiona is a current Smithie. She cooked the chards with olive oil, garlic, and salt. She enjoyed her chard dish along with quinoa, pinto beans, salsa and corn tortilla for dinner. She also cooked the stem and leaf parts separately.

currant jelly
Red currant cherry jelly from Christine

Christine is a Smith alumna. She is an American but her mother side of the family comes from Germany. She made jelly from the red currant cherries from the Smith community garden, just  one week before all the berries were “stolen” by the hungry birds.

mustard
Mustard mix dish from Junzhou

Junzhou is a Smithie from China. She boiled the stem and leaf parts together with hot water. She added salt and garlic after boiling the mustard mix. Her usual way to cook loose greens is to either stir-fry them or boil them.

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with them.

Bring on the Bikes!

28 Aug

Smithies have been bicycling for over 100 years, with good reason: it’s fun, convenient, and usually the quickest way door-to-door for trips under two or three miles.

Smith bikes1Photo: Smith College Archives*

Now we know another reason to bike: it’s the most energy-efficient mode of transportation ever invented.  The automobile is the least efficient: driving cars produces some 1/4 of US greenhouse gas emissions, and 2/3 of all US trips one mile or less are currently made by car, so bicycles will play an increasingly important role in combatting climate change.  As an Environmental Fellow of Smith’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability and Director of our new Environmental Concentration on Climate Change, I invite you to visit CEEDS to pick up a regional bike trail map and a “Go By Bike” safety info brochure, and to ride your bike!

SMith bikes2Photo: Smith College Archives*

You can read more in this column I wrote for the Amherst Bulletin and Daily Hampshire Gazette.

-James Lowenthal, Professor, Astronomy

*Used with permission of the Smith College Archives from the Athletics Subject Collection–Bicycles, 1920s–Box 1348.

Trip to MacLeish Station

27 Aug

[This is one in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

A tour in a mountainous region on a nice sunny day can be interesting. Plus, on a hot summer day, working somewhere under tree shade can be enjoyable. This is what I got to experience on a day this summer when the Botanic Garden interns lent some support up at the MacLeish Field Station.

The MacLeish Field Station is a 240 acre property owned by Smith College, used for both academic research and leisure activities. I visited the Station once last fall with the Smith Outdoor Adventure team. Different from the yellow leaves and cool wind weather of fall, the MacLeish Station has a special beauty in summer time.

I went out with the Botanic Garden interns to work at the field station for one day with the interns who normally care for the Station during the summer. We placed cardboard on the beds created for planting new apple trees. This single task took myself and eight other students a whole morning to complete. In the afternoon, we added wood chips on top of the cardboard. I kept thinking that it’s somehow shameful how little help I provided, but after all the work to clear out weeds, I really was astonished to see how much change we had made. This is part of the beauty of gardening – the surprise you get after you’ve been focusing on a small spot of soil for a long time and then lifting up your eyes to see the whole picture.

Here are some photos from the day.

apple treeThe apple orchard we worked on.

Dan Ladd tree graftingArtist in Residence Dan Ladd’s tree grafting installation.

observatory
The observatory at the station

view of range
The view to the Holyoke range that we got to enjoy.

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with them.

Sustaining Ourselves and our Communities

25 Aug

[This is one in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

I come from China, a country with a large population but limited food supply. Due to the astonishingly rapid progress of urbanization in China, the agricultural lands available for cultivation have decreased significantly, resulting in an increasing number of people who either suffer hunger or eat food with undesirable quality every day. However, some low-quality foods isn’t derived from natural limitations, such as the richness of soil or the humidity of the growing area, but instead is the result of cost cutting measures and use and abuse of chemical herbicides or fertilizers.

The first time that I heard about the term sustainability was when I worked in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in Beijing, China. CSA farms have been settled in many countries and regions in the world. Having a CSA farm in your neighborhood infers that you will then have a greater chance to get access to high-quality, fresh, and organic local food. Purchasing a membership in a CSA is an investment in the local farm; the farmer gets your money up front, and, depending on the CSA you are joining, you are guaranteed a weekly “share” of whatever fresh vegetables, fruits, or meat is harvested from the farm. Each CSA is unique, but the ones I am familiar with deliver shares to member houses or drop them off  at neighborhood locations bi-weekly or weekly. Shares usually include 7-10 different types of produce, at least enough for a family of two. You can even request more of one kind of vegetable in place of another.

In order to find a way to produce “green” food in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way, I spent a summer living and working on Little Donkey farm, a CSA farm in Beijing, China. There I learned how to recycle the rotten fruits, vegetables and certain types of weeds as components in organic fertilizers, how to use scented herbs instead of bug spray to protect agricultural products from pests, how to manage the farm as a self-sustainable area by saving as many products from the previous procedure to the next steps, and etc. At the CSA farm I worked, members understood that while their membership guaranteed that they would share in all the farm’s successes, it also meant they would share in the failures, too. For example, when the chickens produced fewer eggs but the potato harvest was greater than expected, members accepted that they would receive potatoes in place of eggs in their shares.

Before I worked on the CSA farm I used to believe that sustainability and food security were impossible problems to address. Though both are issues that affect everyone on earth the problems are way too big for me to solve or even worry about. However, now I have come to believe that no matter how big or small, tasks always require team work to be achieved. By helping garden at Smith and becoming a member in a CSA farm, for example, I am able to influence more people to follow my behaviors and spread more awareness of sustainability and food security issues.

Examples of CSA farms near Northampton for a good day tour:

Crimson and Clover Farm
215 Spring St, Florence, MA 01062

Mountain View Farm
393 East St, Easthampton, MA 01027

MVF_

Enterprise Farm
72 River Rd, South Deerfield, MA 01373

Small Gifts Farm
1089 N Pleasant St, Amherst, MA 01002

Red Fire Farm
7 Carver St, Granby, MA 01033

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with them.

Morning Wake-up Working Party

21 Aug

[This is the fourth in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

This week, in addition to the weekly Friday afternoon working party I offered a one-hour working party every morning from 7-8 a.m. I believe that being among green plants refresh people’s minds for a new day. Working one hour in the early morning, when the sun hasn’t risen high yet and the air still smells like dew can also be a good opportunity to get some exercise. In contrast to exercises like running and bicycling, with gardening you can see the real change you made to the land instead of just imagining how many calories you just burned. This can be one of the charming characteristics of gardening.

peasPeas are among the earliest produce shining under sun and rewarding my labor.

currants_bush                                             Red currant fruit is plumping up.

rasp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red raspberries are coming along.
Bluebs
                                                                                                       Blueberries too!

bok choiBok choi always does well and the plants look so beautiful after taking a shower.

swiss chardSwiss chard make me laugh with water drops on their cute leaves.

Even though I usually work alone, I enjoy my time watering the plants and preparing them for the dry and hot summer days. This week I got some help with watering from the sky above because it has rained almost every day. I have enjoyed eating my breakfast in the garden in the company of  birds singing pleasantly.

waxAll sorts of beans (these are wax) have been my company for the past a couple of weeks.

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with others.

 

Ada and Archibald MacLeish

19 Aug

In May of 2008 Smith College dedicated 243 acres in Whately, Massachusetts used for outdoor classes and research to Ada and Archibald MacLeish, in recognition of the couple’s close friendship with the school’s first woman president, Jill Ker Conway, and their passion for the environment.

This year, my summer research was conducted with the goal of providing visitors to the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station an understanding of the expanse of contributions the property’s namesakes provided both in the arts and public service.

Archie

Archibald MacLeish was strongly influenced by his mother’s family’s propensity to follow all their many interests. His life pursuits and accomplishments were multifaceted. He was a lawyer, editor at Fortune magazine, appointed Librarian of Congress by FDR, Assistant Secretary of State, and chairman of the American delegation of UNESCO. As a writer, he was a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry and drama as well as recipient of a Tony Award. None of these accomplishments would have been realized without the support of his wife of 65 years, Ada, who was herself an accomplished pianist and concert singer.

Ada

After Ada’s graduation from the Westover School and prior to her marriage to Archibald, her parents sent her to Paris to study piano as a viable means of earning a future income. While there, she also studied voice. Later, in the 1920s, Ada returned to Paris with Archibald, alongside many notable early 20th century writers, artists and composers such as Hemingway, Picasso, and Cole Porter. This trip proved advantageous for Ada as her singing career blossomed. However, shortly after the MacLeishes returned to the United States, buying their home in nearby Conway, Ada essentially put an end to her professional singing career to support Archibald and raise their children.

Sources used for researching the MacLeishes, aside from publications available in Smith College libraries, have been the Archibald MacLeish Collection located at Greenfield Community College and the Conway Historical Society. Based on the findings of Ada and Archibald’s rich life histories and their close connection to Smith College, I plan to continue my research as a special studies project under the guidance of Reid Bertone-Johnson during the coming fall semester.

-Jo Harvey

Jo Harvey ‘AC is an ES&P major who likes to spend time outdoors and with family.

Farm Stand!

30 Jul

[This is the third in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

July 7th is a sunny Monday, and also my first farm stand day on campus. Since May, I have cared for the vegetables, herbs and fruits in the Smith Community Garden as they have grown and matured. I have been excitedly waiting to hold the farm stand and share my harvest with other people. Before actually picking the fresh produce at the garden this morning, I used to worry about not having enough for a two-hour farm stand. But then I lowered down my body and crawled under raspberry bushes to collect the reddish and good-looking fruits. I cut off onion leaves and mixed mustard leaves. I bowed down over the soil, and when I looked up to reach the green beans hidden under leaves and vines, I suddenly felt such a strong sense of appreciation deep in my heart. I praised the nature for their generosity and kindness of providing me all the harvests just like someone praising their gods.

I went to the Campus Center and got a big bright yellow paper to use as a poster for the farm stand. The CC staff also kindly provided me a table for displaying the produce. Placing out the labels with the prices that Kathy (from Dining Services) have helped me set, and arranging berries and beans in the lovely blue boxes, I felt like a real farmer-the people we see at Farmer’s Markets who usually collect fresh produce in the early morning, bring all the items to the market place, and are ready for selling by noon time.

To make sure that people get the most satisfactory and worthwhile produce, I carefully cut off all the withered or bug-bitten leaves. I also shook the dirt out of the roots so they are clean- though I left a little bit of the dirt as a sign that it’s organic and fresh.

Farm stand poster                 The poster I made for the first farm stand in the summer of 2014

farm stand         View of the farm stand in front of Chapin House, facing Chapin lawn.

It was a really windy day! My first challenge was to find a way to keep everything from blowing away. After struggling for several minutes, I figured out how to keep everything either on the table or on the ground. As you can see from the picture above, the first farm stand wasn’t perfect, and I worried that its untidy appearance would keep people from stopping as they walked by. Luckily, some of my friends came and supported me by buying my produce, and locals even went home to get money to buy berries. Some volunteers who came to my Friday afternoon working party also dropped by. I even had an interesting conversation with a Museum of Art staff member about the challenges of getting fresh food that people face in his home country of Morocco. Our conclusion? The potential for gardening- on roofs and in small spaces – is very real for anyone who is interested enough. Sure, there are challenges, large and small, but with a little creativity there is no reason more people can’t plant vegetables or herbs on roofs, in pots, or in place of grassy lawns. Join us in the Smith Community Garden and you might just gain the skills and confidence that will help you launch your first home garden when you are ready!

b_b
People really love the raspberries and red currants
– they are a treat to look at AND eat!

onions
Onions with their blossoms.

 bok
Fresh picked Bok Choy.

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with others.

A Trip to Mount Auburn Cemetery

29 Jul

[This is the second in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

06/18/14

All the smith horticulture interns took a trip to the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Boston today. This cemetery was the first garden-cemetery established in the United States. I used to have the stereotype that cemeteries should be tombs arranged in rows and columns. In my imaginary cemetery, big trees are scattered and weeds knee high create a gloomy and fearful atmosphere. However, the trip today changed my mind sharply. It’s a brand new idea for me to think that a cemetery can also be a garden itself.

reception
The reception building of the Mount Auburn Cemetery

Since a cemetery is usually mostly grass, it seems such a wise decision to turn what might be just a weedy landscape into a garden. This way, when people look out across the city, say, from Beacon Hill where the new State House is, the cemetery will not stand out as different or unsightly. A garden cemetery saves ground resources by having the function of a cemetery on a garden landscape, beatifies the urban area and incorporates beauty and function into the city plan.

view
The view from the highest point in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

monument
A public monument.

victorian
A Victorian garden.

The path that curves in front of the church was originally for chariots to change direction. An increasing number of weddings are held at the church- perhaps because of publicity about the beauty of the landscape? Besides wedding ceremonies, it is also common for people to sit on the lawn in front of the church and have picnics under a beech tree planted by the Prince of Wales.

beech
The purple beech tree, planted on October 19, 1860 by the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII).

gravestones
The gravestones have been incorporated into the lawn. The lawn is mowed regularly and great care has been taken.

roses
It is seldom to see such bright colored roses in a cemetery. With the flower petals raining down on the gravestones, the soul lying underneath may even smell the fragrance.

willow lake
Willow Lake.

There are some grave markers settled around the lake. People who love water sports, like canoeing, kayaking and swimming might like to sleep permanently here. Green and blue algae used to be a big problem for the lake. However, a newly constructed drainage system now filters algae out, helping to avoid the eventual flooding that unhampered growth would cause.

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with others.

Looking Back- A Visit to the Vernal Pool

25 Jul

Last April, I organized a trip for the second graders of the Smith College Campus School to visit the vernal pools at the MacLeish Field Station as part of a special studies with professor Jesse Bellemare. I am a ‘14 Smith graduate with a degree in biology and plans to go into research. However, I am also very interested in educational outreach that connects young children to nature, which I wish to pursue once I become more established in my career as a biologist. Thus I saw this special studies as the perfect opportunity to gain some experience and utilize what I had learned in both my ecology and education courses.

Vernal pools are very common in western Massachusetts, and MacLeish is home to several. They are depressions in the ground that fill with water either from snowmelt or rainfall in early spring, and dry up completely later on throughout the year. The complete drying out and the absence of an incoming water source prohibit fish from surviving. This lack of predatory fish allows many species of amphibians to mate and breed in the pool. Two types of animals live in vernal pools: obligate and facultative. Obligate animals depend on vernal pools to survive while facultative do not. A vernal pool must have obligate species living in it to be considered a vernal pool. Obligate species include fairy shrimp, the wood frog, the spotted salamander, the blue spotted salamander, and the Jefferson salamander. Facultative species include the spring peeper and the gray treefrog; insects such as the whirligig beetle, caddis fly, daphnia, mosquito larvae, and the diving beetle; and other visitors such as raccoon, blue heron, and turtle and snake species.

vernal pool - MacLeish                                                      A vernal pool at MacLeish.

Several of the second graders were already familiar with vernal pools and all of them were excited to learn about more about them, especially after they read the book The Secret Pool by Kimberly Ridley in class. Their enthusiasm was very infectious and I was quite impressed at the quality and quantity of their questions.

I brought each class of second graders down to MacLeish’s largest vernal pool while the other class went on a nature walk. Each student had their own net, and they explored in groups to search for whatever critters they could find. We then brought all the samples back to the Bechtel Environmental Classroom and placed the creatures in Petri dishes for the children to look at under dissecting microscopes. We looked at horsehair worms, mosquito larvae, a toe-biter (giant water bug larvae), fingernail clams, fairy shrimp, salamander and wood frog eggs, and other critters found in the detritus of the vernal pool. The students consulted field guides with me and, when they found an organism of considerable interest, took out their naturalist notebooks and sketched a scientific drawing.

Spotted salamander eggs - MacLeish                                                        Spotted salamander eggs.

The field trip was a great success and the children left wanting more time with the microscopes. The chaperones and teachers were as curious and as eager to learn as the students. I believe everyone left the Field Station with a better understanding of vernal pools and an interest to learn more about the creatures that inhabit them. I left the experience even more excited to continue with educational outreach in the future. We hope for the field trip to be an annual event, with a new Smith student interested in scientific outreach leading it each year.

Sarah Gaffney ’14 graduated this spring with a major in biological sciences and a minor in Spanish. She was a proud member of Morris House during all four of her years at Smith. Sarah now works as a field technician in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, where she performs surveys of the area’s vegetation and assists with research on bears, elk, and deer. In her spare time she enjoys knitting, reading, and watching Netflix.

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