A Sampling of Forest Ecology Research

15 Jul

This summer I have spent most of my days working as an intern for the Botanic Garden of Smith College under the guidance of Gaby Immerman, assisting the staff there with the maintenance of the various gardens and trees around campus. On Fridays, however, each intern engages in a personal research project in order to create a final product that benefits the Botanic Garden in some way. I am being supported by CEEDS to work with Michelle Jackson, a 2015 graduate of Smith College and a researcher in Professor Jesse Bellemare’s laboratory, on research about the effects of Eastern hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) decline on the liverwort species Bazzania trilobata.

Eastern hemlock trees have been in decline as populations of two invasive Asian insects, the hemlock woolly adelgid and the elongate hemlock scale, get established and feed on the trees. In forests in Chesterfield and at Smith College’s MacLeish Field Station in Whately these hemlocks are gradually being replaced by black birch (Betula lenta), changing the composition of the understory, the interactions of various animals, and the forests as whole systems. B. trilobata is associated with Eastern hemlocks, but Michelle is interested in finding evidence as to whether these liverworts are actually dependent on Eastern hemlocks.

thumb_IMG_1273_1024Liverwort Bazzania trilobata

Michelle is testing the effects of different predictor variables on the survival of B. trilobata. Primarily, she is testing the difference between liverworts in areas with hemlock versus patches of forest with birch growth. She is also comparing these results to liverworts growing in areas that have been clear-cut, or those where hemlock trees have been salvage logged. Since hemlocks are coniferous and black birch are deciduous, Michelle is also looking at how being covered by the differing leaf litter affects B. trilobata. Her research takes into account variables such as aspect, slope, radiation, and soil moisture. I have been helping Michelle by flagging plots and making observations about the survival states of samples of B. trilobata.

I have also had the opportunity to help the other researchers in the Bellemare lab with their individual projects. I have helped collect data for Elizabeth Besozzi ’16, who is working to determine the effects of the shift of forests from hemlock to birch on salamanders and the food webs in which they are involved. I have helped collect soil samples for Aliza Fassler ’17, who is looking to see how this same shift in forest composition affects the soil and carbon-nitrogen cycling. I have also gotten the opportunity to help Anna George ’17 prepare tree core samples for her project involving the appearance of an increased spread of magnolia trees (Magnolia tripetala) into locations further north than their typical range.

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Eastern hemlock trees (coniferous), Tsuga canadensis, and black birch trees (deciduous), Betula lenta

I am hoping to write a more comprehensive article about the research going on at MacLeish Field Station, focusing especially on the research surrounding the hemlocks done by those I’ve worked with in Professor Jesse Bellemare’s laboratory. I think that this important research needs to be shared with the public to spread awareness about the impact of the actions of humans on the environment, including climate change and the resulting movement of species to new locations. Furthermore, I believe that this research is an important example of why places like the MacLeish Field Station, are conducive to research and preservation.

Isabella Fielding ‘17 is a rising Junior from Warwick, RI. She is majoring in Biology and English, and she aspires to be a scientific writer

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