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Summer Research Experience: Student Blog

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Change is Underfoot

June 27, 2016, by Megan Wilcots
With all the talk of climate change and increased CO 2 emissions wreaking havoc on the globe’s ecosystems, you might think that all the carbon we’re emitting is going straight into the atmosphere, condemning us to a sticky, sweaty future. But, in fact, the global climate has a secret, and it’s beneath your feet. Global soils contain more carbon than what is stored in the atmosphere and plants, and they play an important role in the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere. With warming and precipitation expected to increase in many parts of the world, soils’ response to these new...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 >

Ecological Tipping Points and Warning Signs

July 30, 2015, by Nathan Justice
It takes a very special kind of person to be an ecologist. They must be tenacious, inquisitive, and most importantly, they must demonstrate unyielding optimism. A common goal amongst ecological scientists is to better understand the world around us, and to capitalize on this knowledge in order to facilitate Nature's narrative with minimal human interruption. Ecology, along with sibling-branches like conservation biology, wildlife biology, and forestry, have a tendency to feel like an uphill battle in pursuit of this goal. Despite the appearance of ecological processes progressing at a...Read more >

Fun in a Warming Forest

July 23, 2015, by Alana Thurston
Let's play a word association game: Climate change. Rising waters, acidifying oceans, species migration and extinction, extreme weather, and an ever-warming climate. Yes, all of these things and more. And while these are all of global concern, how about the impacts of climate change on a smaller, more regional level? Here at Harvard Forest, we're asking exactly that. Currently, Harvard Forest has three soil warming experiments running, each of which has cables installed under the soil to warm the plots 5 degrees Celsius above ambient temperature in an attempt to measure how a warmer climate...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 >

Balancing Conservation and Agriculture at the Farm

July 8, 2015, by Brittany Cavazos
This summer, my project is a bit different than most of the other students’ here. While the general idea of conservation is about saving the forest, my project involves protecting open areas, like pastures – or, in this case, an old golf course of the Petersham Country Club. The thing is, most of Massachusetts has been reforested over the last century or so and with it, the decline of species that are only present around forest edges or open areas. Additionally, there is the ever present need for pastures for agriculture. So the idea for my project centers on if we can conserve these open...Read more >

No Such Thing As Too Much Garlic? Think Again!

July 6, 2015, by Natalie Gonzalez
One of the first things my driver told me on my way to Harvard Forest from the Boston airport was that Massachusetts was in the middle of a drought. Now I thought this was odd because, looking out of my window, I saw lakes sitting on both sides of the road. Being from California I expected a slightly different view of the city when the word "drought" was used. For the rest of the summer I would experience large amounts of cold rain, humidity, thunderstorms, high temperatures, and frizz....sometimes all in the same day (except for the frizz, that's become an everyday problem). "They call this...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 >

Seeing Forrest through the Trees

June 24, 2015, by Forrest Lewis
Forrest Lewis and Evan Goldman at Harvard Forest
I've heard a lot of puns, jokes, and quips since starting my research internship at the Harvard Forest last month. But I guess when your parents name you after a bohemian misspelling of a New England biome, you get what you deserve. So whether it was destiny, free will, or "Popular Baby Names 1995" that brought me here, I've come to love my time at the Harvard Forest. To rewind a bit, the Harvard Forest (spelled with only one 'r') is actually what it sounds like—a forest, owned by Harvard University, with trees, plants, moose, and everything else characteristic of the Massachusetts wilderness...Read more >

Your mind has just been BLOWN!

July 19, 2013, by Johanna Recalde Quishpe
Rebecca Walker, Johanna Recalde Quishpe, and Justine Kaseman
I think we can all agree that the moment when you learn a new fact that has you rethinking your entire life is one of the best feelings. Am I right or am I right? Well, this summer I was fortunate enough to spend 11 weeks with the smartest and most interesting group of kids (not really kids, but not really adults either) in the middle of a beautiful forest. Here's a recount of some of the new things we've learned: 1. Daddy long legs are not spiders! What? Everything I know about life has been a lie! Daddy longlegs are arachnids, but they're not spiders. Instead they are called harvestmen. 2...Read more >

Processing tree cores and other forest adventures

July 3, 2013, by Pat O'Hara
An increment borer used for tree coring.
When I was in the third grade our recess was cancelled because there was a rogue cow on our playground; in middle school, I learned of trail running as an escape from essentially anything; my high school years consisted of my friends and I drooling over pickup trucks and then eventually getting our own; and when I finally moved to school in Cambridge in the fall, my best friends, quite brashly (but playfully...), took pleasure in labeling me as some hillbilly who somehow slipped by admissions officers. Although this last part is far from reality, and I actually live in a typical Boston suburb...Read more >

3 lessons REU taught me

June 21, 2013, by Christine Pardo
Thumbs up for science!
When I made my way from Florida to Massachusetts this past May, I made the awesome realization that I was living in Peters-HAM and not Peter-SHAM. I had been saying that wrong since February. Since then, I have learned far more at Harvard Forest in just one month (besides the proper New England-style pronunciation of random small towns) than I can begin to explain. So I present to you three of the many lessons learned during my time here, which I hope provides some insight into the life and mind of an REU student researcher. 1. The Scientific Method may cause injuries. And no, I don’t just...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 >

Time lapse photography goes underground

June 5, 2013, by Arline Gould
A close-up of our non-waterproof Minirhizotron
We rarely give much thought to what goes on beneath our feet. Even those of us who enjoy outdoor activities spend considerable amounts of money on shielding our soles from the earth upon which we walk. So much of what we know and experience pertains only to aboveground settings. Plants, on the other hand, derive much of their livelihood from the soil on which most of us are content merely to tread. This summer, I have the opportunity to alter common conceptions of forests, specifically the temperate forests I have grown up in and learned from throughout my entire life. With my mentor, Rose...Read more >

Global warming and forest soil micro biomes

July 19, 2012, by Sonia Filipczak
Global Warming has become a topic under much debate, yet carrying implications that affect everyone. Whether you are young or old, plant, animal, or microbe, some of the obvious signs such as less snow in the winter and unbearably hot summers should remind us how much of an impact each individual has on our world. Among all of the individuals on this planet, soil microbes make up a large population and their response to climate change should be of concern. After all, there are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than people on Earth! Similar to us, microbial communities are affected by the...Read more >

Soil microbial respiration in a warming world

July 2, 2012, by Lauren Alteio
This summer, I am working with Jerry Melillo , Lindsay Scott, and members of the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory to analyze the activity of soil microbes in response to soil warming. We study the extremely dynamic microenvironments within the soil to understand how the health of forest ecosystems can be affected by global climate change. Soil plots at Prospect Hill have been heated for twenty-one years, meaning the project is older than me! Initially in the project, scientists saw that the amount of carbon dioxide released through microbial respiration was greater in the...Read more >

Underground photography of root growth

June 13, 2012, by Samuel Knapp
I’m still shocked by the opportunity I have been given this summer. Being from the upper-Midwest, I was unsure what I would find when I arrived at the Harvard Forest. Much to my delight, the people of Massachusetts and Harvard Forest have been friendly and welcoming. The region is beautifully forested, and the surrounding communities live up to all the great things I’ve heard about New England culture (accents included). My research this summer at the Harvard Forest looks into the unseen world of roots, specifically the timing of their growth and decay. Trees allocate carbon to roots in the...Read more >

Fine woody debris dynamics after an ice storm

August 23, 2011, by Jakob Lindaas
I used to walk through a forest, always looking up in wonder at the tall, sturdy trees and their vast canopies. But after this summer I have a newfound appreciation for what lies underneath these great sentries of the forest realm. Among the seasonal litterfall and the rotting remains of former protectors of peaceful succession, lay my study subjects. These are fallen soldiers of a war raged in December of 2008, between a mighty ice storm and the winter vigil kept by the mighty red oaks, their sidekick red maples, their hemlock allies, and their understory minions: beeches, yellow birches and...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 >

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 >

Exploring the abiotic and biotic drivers of soil respiration on the Harvard Forest Prospect Hill Tract

August 4, 2010, by Claudia Reveles, Joanna Blaszczak, and Maya Thomas
Our project is in the field of soil carbon dynamics, specifically looking at the rate of carbon dioxide efflux around Prospect Hill as well as areas that have been manipulated by different abiotic (nitrogen input and temperature) and biotic (adding leaf litter and removing roots) factors. A preliminary map was generated using GIS to identify areas (polygons) in Prospect Hill with unique stand (prominent tree species) and soil drainage types. A total of 59 areas were identified, but some were excluded due specific conditions (i.e. excessively drained areas like bogs and impervious areas),...Read more >

The effects of large-scale deforestation

July 16, 2010, by Crystal Garcia and Angie Marshall
We are working in the clearcut up on Prospect Hill near the fire tower. Previously, this area was a spruce plantation, but 2 years ago, it was deforested and timber was harvested. This area is now used as a research site to highlight the effects of large-scale deforestation efforts. A flux-tower was set up in the middle of the area to help capture the carbon, water, and energy fluxed between the land and the air. The data we are collecting will be used to put the flux tower measurements into context to better understand the effects of climate variability on carbon sequestration and release...Read more >