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Summer Research Experience: Student Blog

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What’s Out There?: A Small Yet Large Study of Harvard Forest

August 2, 2017
This summer I am working under Sydne Record and John Grady’s project on seedling dynamics. I chose this internship to get more of a feel for the ecological field that I was introduced to a few years ago, and to continue research in Sydne’s lab at my home institution. The aim of my project is to understand seedling population dynamics, with respect to abundance and growth rates, within Harvard Forest’s 35 hectre megaplot. Colleen (my research partner) and I have randomly set up fifty 1 m 2 pvc plots across the megaplot, and have located, tagged and measured the height of all stems that have a...Read more >

A Piece of Home Where the Cows Roam

July 6, 2017, by Jerilyn Jean M. Calaor
Marking the coordinates on Harvard Farm
“Welcome to Boston,” a voice over the airplane intercom announced. Already 7,955 miles away from home, I still had an hour-long car ride ahead of me. I fought through heavy eyes as the city skyscrapers blurred into towering trees. Finally, we turned onto a dirt road, and the 22 hours of travel to Petersham came to an end. Stepping out of the car into the cold night, it was clear I had left the warm summer breeze, sandy beaches, and vibrant blue ocean of Guam behind. Soon after, we visited where I would be spending most of my working day – the Harvard Farm. As I took in the sea of green...Read more >

Moo-ve Over Forest! It’s Time to Make Roam for the Grasslands

June 30, 2017, by Alina Smithe
Cows in Field
Imagine a sea of green grass swaying in the wind, sprawling mountains in the distance, cows browsing at their leisure. This is probably not the view that comes to mind when you picture Harvard Forest. But here at the Harvard Farm, an abandoned golf course on the outskirts of the forest that is now maintained as agricultural grassland, ecological research extends beyond the trees. Though forests gather the attention of most conservation efforts in New England, grasslands also offer vital but fleeting ecosystems. Most grasslands originated from the clearing of forest for agricultural purposes,...Read more >

Tree Rings, Disturbance, and Life under the Scope

July 12, 2016, by Melinda Paduani of the Disturbance Dynamics Duo
Consider the major events that you have experienced throughout your life. Some people keep mementos and souvenirs to remember the places they have been to or take photos to look back at what they saw; others only have their memories. Trees, on the other hand, “write their stories” in their rings. The patterns that they form serve as a visual history of extreme weather, insect infestations, growth cycles, and many other details that are revealed upon closer inspection. I will admit to being the type of person who believed that science was confined to carefully outlined experimental methods and...Read more >

From the Ground Up: What’s Going On With Young Hemlocks?

June 28, 2016, by Molly Wieringa
The first thing I would have anyone know about me is that I’m in love with the color green—the green of leaves and grasses and the edge of the sunset. It’s a color with a thousand shades and tints, a color that dances with light and seems strangely alien in any setting but the natural one. Luckily, there’s a lot of green in the woods, so for me a summer at the Harvard Forest falls somewhere on the spectrum between ‘this is just too cool to be real’ and ‘I get to spend the whole day outside?!?’ Fortunately, it is real, and I do get to spend about half my days out among the trees, investigating...Read more >

East Coast Dreamin’: Six or Eight Legs at a Time

August 4, 2015, by Cody Raiza
Arriving to Harvard Forest from drought stricken California, I could have never imagined a place with so much water and lush green vegetation; precipitation so thick that the trees "rain" for hours after warm summer showers, rivers hugging every winding country road, and lakes bursting at the seams. New England is a magical place where no one must consider turning their fluffy turf grass yard into a succulent garden or rockscape in response to the west coast drought. Looking out a car window across a sprawling valley, one tries to comprehend how many hundreds of metric tons these trees occupy...Read more >

Some Genes Like It Hot

August 3, 2015, by Josia DeChiara
Biology is a 3D puzzle; an infinitely large logic game with the universe, made up of numerous rings, bars, and strings inexplicably intertwined. A scientist attempts to make sense of these knots, looking for patterns in the pathways. This summer, I have been trying to trace these connections in strings of DNA in hopes of uncovering the story of soil life after decades of experimentally-induced warming. In October of 2011, soil cores were taken from each of the three soil warming experiments at the Harvard Forest and immediately immersed in a bath of ethanol and dry ice. This precious, mad-...Read more >

Brutally Honest with Ants: "That’s not your color"

July 29, 2015, by Roxanne Hoorn
Integration of the arts into ecology research seems like an idea whose time has finally come. Unfortunately, nature doesn't seem eager to embrace this expressive movement in the form incorporated in my research: the painting of ants. Nevertheless, as part of our summer project, my research partner Cody Raiza and I would find a colony of our ant genus of choice and hunker down for a few hours of tedious ant-butt painting. Perhaps I should start by explaining why we painted the ants, or why we even care about ants at all. People don't seem to think much about ants and when we do, we're usually...Read more >

Ant-ticipating Change: As forests change, will ants?

July 21, 2015, by Tess McCabe
Aphaenogaster ant nest
Ants work hard. In fact, a single leafcutter colony can consume more than the average cow . But different ants work hard in different ways. Some will move seeds around, letting plants grow in new areas. Some will build vast underground tunnels that aerate the soil. Different kind of ants are useful. That's where I come in. I do two things. I figure out what ants we're working with, and I figure out what ants we will be working with. Here at Harvard Forest and at Black Rock Forest , I am looking at how the numbers and types of species of ant has changed over time, and how they will change. Our...Read more >

Katrina and the Hurricane: Telling a story with dead wood

July 3, 2015, by Katrina Fernald
Harvard Forest is a place with history. Our home for the summer was originally built in the 1700's, on our second day, we visited a 400-year-old black gum tree, and the bowls in our kitchen probably date from the end of the Stone Age. Harvard has owned this patch of forest in Petersham, Massachusetts since 1907, and the amount of research and data that has accumulated since then is immense. I first began to understand the importance of this impressive history on two field days last week to Pisgah State Park in Winchester, New Hampshire. An average day here at the Forest for me most often...Read more >

Bienvenue à la Forêt Harvard

June 26, 2015, by Harry Stone
"You're bringing leaves and stem samples across the border?" the CPB (Customs and Border Patrol) Agent asks quizzically at our car. How to respond in a short answer? "For ecological research" was the meek reply we settled on, and with a grunt the agent pulled us aside for further questioning. This interaction occurred yesterday on my return trip from the University of Montreal Laurentides field station in Saint-Hippolyte about an hour and a half north of Montreal. For some further background information, I had spend the last week in Quebec collecting samples from roughly 160 individual plants...Read more >

Hugging Hemlocks

June 11, 2014, by Claudia Villar
In the early hours of most summer mornings, our team of researchers trudges through the New England forest along a well-worn path, shaded by the young, light-green leaves of the oak, maple and birch trees above us. Equipped with backpacks overloaded with gear including measuring tapes, hard hats, clipboards, and hammers, we chat about our families, our hometowns, and our career goals; our conversations are often punctuated by exclamations and discussions about the funky invertebrates and fungi we encounter along the path. As we walk, the forest thickens around us. The ground becomes...Read more >

Global warming in a plastic bucket

July 10, 2013, by Justine Kaseman
The elusive red backed salamander.
This summer at Harvard Forest, I am researching the top down effects of vertebrates on the ecosystem. We are using warming chambers which are about 10 feet in diameter and are heated up from 0 degrees to 5.5 degrees celcius over ambient temperature. For our experiment, we have created 3 mesocosms, which are like tiny environments in five gallon buckets. Each mesocosm has leaves, a rock, and some treatment. The treatments are as follows: Soil Soil and invertebrates Soils, invertebrates, and a salamander The soil includes the first trophic in the ecosystem: microbes. The inverts are the second...Read more >

The slugs are trap happy, but where are the rodents?

June 26, 2013, by Amy Balint
My research team!
The past few weeks have had one thing in common: line after line of empty traps. This summer, I'm studying rodents and other small mammals to find out what happens to them when eastern hemlock forests die off due to an invasive insect called the hemlock woolly adelgid. To determine which species are present and estimate their population sizes, fellow REU student James and I have been heading out to the forest in the evenings to set traps for them. The traps are Sherman live traps, which we bait with sunflower seeds and organic cotton wool. The next morning, our mentor Ally picks us up at 4:00...Read more >

Snapshots from a forest: Comparing 1937, 1992 and 2013

June 11, 2013, by Hannah Wiesner
Pat O'Hara measures this tree's DBH, or diameter at breast height.
Laying out two tape measures to create a 22.5m x 22.5m square, my first field exercise this summer took place not within the Harvard Forest’s 3,500 acres, but instead on the lawn behind a residential cabin. We were learning to use a compass to place a stake at the NE, NW, SE and SW corners of the square, which is much easier to do in a yard where the only obstacles between you and your partner are inch-long blades of grass and not trees several meters in height. Creating exact plots is necessary for our project because we aim to recreate the plots that were set-up in 1937 and 1992 in the...Read more >

What do we care about more? Biodiversity or old trees?

June 7, 2013, by James Leitner
Hemlock Woolly Adelgid
I hear my alarm go off, 3:45am uhhhh. Time to get up and check the traps to see if we caught any rodents. My research project is seeing how the declines of the hemlock trees are affecting the amount of small rodent species like mice, shrews, voles, and flying squirrels. And yes, they are all adorable. Hemlock trees can grow more than one hundred feet tall and can live for hundreds of years. They provide homes for a lot of animals and insects, and are also a good food source for some animals that eat the leaves. Since they are so tall, they provide a lot of shade and make the area around them...Read more >

Part one of biotic change in hemlock forests - Moose, deer, and porcupines

August 1, 2012, by Andrew Moe
This summer, along with my mentor Ed Faison , a research associate at Harvard Forest and ecologist at Highstead Arboretum in Connecticut, I have been working on a project investigating the impacts of herbivory by moose, deer, and porcupine on regenerating forests. More specifically, we are interested in looking at regeneration within stands of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Here in New England, hemlock forests are under attack. The hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), an exotic insect already responsible for widespread mortality of hemlock throughout the Eastern U.S., has arrived in...Read more >

Part three of biotic change in hemlock forests - Ants and spiders

August 1, 2012, by Yvan Delgado de la Flor
Eastern hemlock is a foundation species in eastern North America and plays a critical role in the local biota. This tree deeply shades the soil, creating a unique microclimate for some species. Currently, hemlocks are dying rapidly due to the invasive woolly adelgid, a nonnative phloem-feeding insect, causing alterations to the understory microclimates. Hemlocks are being replaced slowly by hardwood forests. All of these changes affect the entire ecosystem and result in the local extinction of some arthropods; for example, some ants and spiders are very sensitive to changes in temperatures...Read more >

Part two of biotic change in hemlock forests - Rodents

August 1, 2012, by Elizabeth Kennett
3:40am my alarm goes off. I adorn my headlamp, throw on some field clothes, tuck my pants into my socks, and climb into my mentor Ally Degrassi's truck. We're going trapping. The afternoon before this we had been out to the Ridge block, one of our two. Each block consists of four hemlock forest treatments. The first two treatments are one plot that was logged out five years ago and is now full of young vegetation and the second is a plot in which the hemlocks within it have been girdled; killing the trees but leaving them standing, this was done to mimic the affect of the Wooly Adelgid, a...Read more >

Forest dynamics in former plantations

July 23, 2012, by Anne Cervas
This summer, I am working with my mentor, Audrey Barker Plotkin , to study former plantations at the Harvard Forest. We are working in the field to record the growth and changing vegetation dynamics as the former plantations grow back as native forest after a century of plantation forestry. We are also combining data from the Harvard Forest Archives to the data we collect in the field to study the growth and composition of the plantation forests compared to the native second-growth forest. Plantations were an important component of the Harvard Forest in the first fifty years after its...Read more >

Global climate change with ants and slugs

June 25, 2012, by Matt Combs and Katie Davis
Ants with Matt Combs Melting wax, digging through sand, and orchestrating the spectacular deaths of entire colonies of ants - seems more fitting for a preschooler than an undergraduate student, working a full-time job. Yet somehow, fate has landed this college senior his dream job: spending the summer in a professional scientific setting while doing things even a little kid would find cool. I represent one-half of the Warm Ants team this summer, which is a long-term research project working to determine the effects of rising air temperatures on ant ecology. We take measurements every month...Read more >

Hemlock trees and their pests

June 25, 2012, by Julia Brokaw and Vincent Waquiu
We got out of the truck at one of our research sites and saw two older women painting a picture of the forested road in afternoon sunlight. It was a beautiful scene, but what the artists didn’t know was that they were surrounded by stressed, thinning, and sick hemlock trees infested with the Hemlock Woolley Adelgid (HWA), the invasive insect pest currently attacking Eastern Hemlock Trees. Hemlock trees are a ‘foundation species’ of forests. They are long-living, shade tolerant conifers that usually grow in groups or are assembled with other tree species. Hemlocks contribute to watershed...Read more >

Pitchers and their tipping points

June 18, 2012, by Jennie Sirota
My project for this summer studies the extraordinary carnivorous pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea . I am working with Aaron Ellison and Benjamin Baiser on a newly funded research project that studies the widespread issue of tipping points. Tipping points are the change from one state to another. These can occur in many different systems, such as in the atmosphere or even in the economy. While it is difficult to predict the changes, we study tipping points to attempt to prevent them from happening because it is energy and resource expensive to return from a change. To test tipping points, we...Read more >

Butterflies and bumblebees

June 11, 2012, by Aubrie James and Kelsey McKenna
This summer, we’re studying animal movement with Dr. Elizabeth Crone and some of her “Cronies” (lab members and affiliates): post-doctoral fellow Greg Breed , Harvard OEB graduate student James Crall, and research intern Dash Donnelly. We’re looking at how anthropogenic landscape changes and resource availability affect population dynamics in two different organisms: bumblebees and butterflies. Since we’re both especially interested in morphological changes, we’ll sometimes stop fieldwork for a day and head out to the Concord Field Station in Bedford, MA where we’ll use high-speed cameras to...Read more >

Sampling the lyford grid

August 23, 2011, by Kate Eisen and Collette Yee
A permanent plot study provides an amazing opportunity for ecological research because it allows scientists to observe changes over ecological time. While many studies take place over a few field seasons at most because of funding or other limitations, permanent plot studies allow scientists to ask questions that only be answered over years or decades by providing a larger window into the dynamics of a site or population over time. For this reason, permanent plot studies are also essential to studying organisms like trees that grow slowly and often live for a long time. At 42 years old, the...Read more >

"Warm ants"

August 3, 2011, by Natashia, Michael, and Kevin
The Warm Ants team is interested in examining the effects of climate change on ecosystem services, species interactions, and biodiversity. We are continuing monitoring of the open top heated chambers at the long term Warm Ants plot through monthly pitfall trapping, winkler sampling, vegetation surveys, and artificial nest investigation. Check out a video we made describing the experimental design of the heated chambers! Michael is studying the effects of climate change on ant-aphid mutualisms. He wants to see how species interactions will change under artificially warmed conditions. The Warm...Read more >

Pitcher plant communities as model food webs

June 20, 2011, by Rachel Brooks
Covered in mud, and smelling similar to the stagnant swamp I found myself surrounded by, I peer deep into the small cuplike leaves of the Sarracenia purpurea (Northern Pitcher Plant), a long-lived carnivorous plant. Contained in these delicate green and red veined pitchers (which have become my life for this summer) an entire detritus-based food-web thrives. This community, consisting of bacteria, protozoa, rotifers, and anthropods, is diversified with numerous endemic species that can only be found within this unique little niche. Therefore, every morning, dripping in the cold early morning...Read more >

REUs ace summer symposium!

August 12, 2010, by Aleta Wiley
In the final week of the Summer Research Program in Ecology for Undergraduates at Harvard Forest, all 33 students participated in the Student Symposium on August 11-12 in the Fisher Museum. Over a day and a half, all the students presented 15 minute talks to an audience comprising program mentors, university professors, Harvard Forest researchers, family members, and of course, their fellow students. As each student discussed his/her summer research, the audience was impressed with the diversity of projects presented ( Abstracts are available here ). Since Harvard Forest is an LTER (Long Term...Read more >

Vegetation sampling in wildlands and woodlands

August 9, 2010, by Maddy Case and Joe Horn
We have spent most of the summer traveling across New England to do field work at sites in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. At each site, we have been establishing permanent vegetation sampling plots for a long-term study comparing forest dynamics in managed and unmanaged forests. We carry 2-foot pieces of steel pipe into the woods (3 lbs per pipe x 3 plots x 4 pipes per plot + 10 lbs for other gear = Wicked heavy), use them to mark the corners of 20x20 meter plots, and survey these plots for herb-layer species, saplings, trees, evidence of historical disturbance, and environmental...Read more >

Tracking moose and deer

July 26, 2010, by Carlyn Perovich and Mickey Drott
We have spent the summer happily crawling around in the forest, bruising ourselves under mountain laurel in pursuit of the holy Grail of our project, moose poop. We are studying the impact of deer and moose browsing on the regeneration of forests, specifically looking at hemlock and oak seedlings. This research is particularly important since the number of white tailed deer continues to increase, and moose recently reappeared in Massachusetts after being extirpated since the mid-19th century. All the same, you don't have to be very knowledgeable about forest life to know that moose don't fit...Read more >

Discovering how hurricanes have affected New England forests

July 7, 2010, by Meredith Kueny and Lianna Lee
Lianna and I are working on the Simulated Hurricane Long Term Ecological Research project out on the Tom Swamp tract of the Harvard Forest. As a part of this project we are collecting another year's worth of data and information on how the original trees are fairing as well as documenting new canopy regeneration and understory dynamics. This summer specifically we’ve worked on recording the current status of the original trees, quantifying the amount of dead wood, mapping new trees that have grown to 5cm Dbh (diameter at breast height), analyzing leaf liter, and observing understory...Read more >

Woodpeckers and tree care

June 24, 2010, by Autumn Alexandra Amici and Anthony Rivera
The overall goal of this project is to understand the effects of tree care practices on habitat for cavity nesting birds, primarily woodpeckers. Most cavity nesting birds seek out dead snags for creating a nest. As cavity excavators, these birds provide habitat elements for a suite of species and are therefore important for biodiversity. While the dead snags that are important for these cavity-nesting birds may go unnoticed in a preserved area, they can be hazardous in towns and cities. By assessing the prevalence of cavity nesting birds in snags throughout an urban to wild land gradient, we...Read more >

Community ecology of "sarracenia pupurea" pitcher plants

June 15, 2010, by Roxanne Ardeshiri
Pitcher Plant
My name is Roxanne Ardeshiri , I'm an undergraduate at the University of California-Berkeley, and I'm studying the community ecology of Sarracenia pupurea Pitcher Plants with Benjamin Baiser at the Harvard Forest. Because Pitcher Plants are essentially microecosystems, we are studying their community ecology to ultimately create model food webs for these systems.We will be measuring decomposition of prey (an ant) as a means of measuring the functionality of the system. This experiment will be conducted in the greenhouse, but all of the species we are using will have been collected from...Read more >

Luna moths on the nightshift

June 14, 2010, by Adam Clark and Margaurete Romero
Luna Moth
The Warm Ants project consists of many mini projects taking place within the chambers. One of these projects is a 24-hour baiting, which means that we must observe which ants are attracted to tuna baits set out in the different temperature chambers for all hours of the day, on the hour. Two of us – Margaurete and Adam – took the night shift from 10pm to 6am, and encountered an unexpected visitor. While waiting near the shed to continue the data collecting, a large insect flew right into us, startling the stillness of the night. As it landed, we were so surprised to see a large Luna moth...Read more >

The warm ants group

June 10, 2010, by Adam Clark, Erik Oberg, and Margaurete Romero
Margaurete collecting butterflies.
In their third week, the Warm Ants Triumvirate has dived into both the long term "Warm Ants" project and individual projects with a burning desire to elucidate the effects of climate change on ants. Each member is responsible for helping with the long term "Warm Ants" experiment which involves a monthly 24 hour baiting study and monthly pitfall trapping. In addition, each is responsible for his or her individual project involving ant nests, mutualism, and thermal tolerance. Daily tasks have varied from spending time in the lab identifying ants, sorting pitfall collections from previous months...Read more >