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Summer Research Experience: Student Blog

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How Far is Too Far for an Ant?

June 26, 2014, by Ariel da Cruz Reis
Everybody, at some point of their lives, has had some sort of contact with these little and fascinating beings! Of course, I am talking about ants. Ants are hard workers, some species are capable of carrying 100 times their own body weight; they are spread out all over the planet, except for Antarctica and Greenland; they represent a large portion of the biomass in many habitats, and, therefore, they consume and recycle a huge amount of organic matter, maintaining a proper nutrient cycle. It is amazing how many important roles they have and how much we know about them. However, there are...Read more >

A Day in the Life of a Junior Forester

June 25, 2014, by Joshua Alaniz
I wake up to a sun that likes to rise at 5 A.M. and doesn't let me go back to sleep. I tuck in two tattered shirts that attempt to protect me from the ocean of blackberry thorns and mosquitos that seem to be drinking DEET after their blood meal. My pants are crammed into heavy wool socks to keep the legions of ticks at bay and I seal my heavy leather boots with Duct Tape to my shins to keep all of the above out. I get up and tape up every day like Joe Frazier getting ready to battle the leviathan that is nature for the next 8 hours. I drive a pickup truck loaded with tape measures, rods that...Read more >

The Roots of the Matter

June 24, 2014, by Marisa
I showed up at Harvard Forest blissfully ignorant of all the possible diseases you can get from tromping around in the forest all day, not to mention with an admittedly cloudy understanding of the day to day realities of ecological research. Three weeks later, my paranoia-induced googling has me well-versed on the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease and Eastern equine encephalitis, and I’ve got a clearer idea of what field research is. It’s trial and error, getting lost in the woods, and too many mosquito bites to count, but it’s also the joy of a new nature sighting, the satisfaction that...Read more >

A Trip to the Harvard University Museums

June 18, 2014, by Grace Barber
Inside the Harvard Museum of Natural History, on display behind glass cases, are tip-of-the-iceberg objects. These are what more than 200,000 visitors a year come to see. They include striking displays of ornate beetles, mounted specimens of birds with brilliant feathers, ancient fossils, and hand-crafted, glass replicas of flowers and sea creatures. The quality of these objects is high, as is the rarity of many, and the caliber of the permanent, public displays bespeaks the wealth of what is not flaunted. On Tuesday, the REU students (and a couple of very fortunate proctors), were treated to...Read more >

Top Predators: What Wolves and Wolf Spiders Have in Common

June 18, 2014, by Heather Clendenin
People understand ripples: you throw a stone into the middle of a pond, and the effects of that action carry on far past where the stone broke the surface of the water. For me, studying ecology has always been somewhat analogous to watching ripples on a pond: the members of an ecosystem respond to each other through their various relationships, and what affects some members directly can carry over to indirectly affect others. At Harvard Forest, the research I'm participating in is looking at the "ripples" that may pass through food webs as climate change brings about warmer temperatures. In...Read more >

My First Lake Coring Trip

June 12, 2014, by Maria Orbay-Cerrato
Since I arrived at Harvard Forest, I've heard my mentor, Wyatt Oswald, use some variation of the phrase "when you go down into the mud, you go back in time" on various occasions. This concept, officially called "the law of superposition", hinges on the simple observation that younger layers of sediment are deposited over older layers. By looking through a microscope at samples of sediment taken from different depths of mud in a lake, my mentor and other paleoecologists can see what tree species dominated a specific area at different points in time. They do this by counting the different types...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 >

My Research Buddy, the LI-COR 6400

June 9, 2014, by Kyle Boyd
What is a LI-COR 6400? The LI-COR 6400 (LI-6400) is a machine that allows budding scientists like me (pun intended) to study the exchange of gases between leaves and their environment. This high-tech machine allows us to learn a lot about how a plant functions. For instance, because carbon dioxide is consumed during photosynthesis, measuring the rate of carbon dioxide uptake by leaves with the LI-6400 is a good measure of the rate of photosynthesis occurring in those leaves. I am going to be using the LI-6400 almost every day for the rest of the summer, the LI-6400 will be my research buddy...Read more >

Creating A New England Forest Map

June 6, 2014, by Sofie McComb
Matthew Duveneck and Sofie McComb analyzing data in the scripting language R
The first week at Harvard Forest has passed and it already feels like I have been here for a month. There is always so much going on and so many things happening that time just flies by. Orientation was a two day whirlwind and finally on day three all the students got to meet their mentors and get to work. I am working over the summer with my mentor Matthew Duveneck, who is a post doc working with Dr. Jonathan Thompson, who is my advising professor. The project I am working on with them is the creation of a map of the New England Forest based on satellite image data, data collected by...Read more >

Debugging Ecological Research

June 6, 2014, by Luis Perez
Barbara Lerner, Luis Perez, Nikki Hoffler, and Emery Boose working
With ecology, as with an increasing number of other fields, "big data" has become an intrinsic aspect of scientific research. Ask most field scientists and, with a grunt of disapproval mixed with displeasure, you are likely to hear about all the programming and statistical analysis that has to be done to gain meaningful results. Consider t he inevitable sensor drift that occurs and the recalibration that must take place to restore validity to the data; or, imagine a flash flood, lighting strike, or simple technical failure that can lead to incorrect or unavailable sensor readings. As larger...Read more >

Initial Impressions of the Summer Ahead

June 3, 2014, by Alison Ochs
Alison Ochs standing above the canopy on the Hemlock Tower
When I first arrived at Harvard Forest, I saw green. The woods were beautiful, the trails stunning, and all I could tell was that the forest around me was unlike anything I was used to. What I didn’t see initially were the dying trees, the falling needles, and the slow decline of a once healthy hemlock forest. Yes, the maples were fine, the pines booming, even some chestnuts starting to sprout, but the hemlock was fading away. This loss and its accompanying effects on the forest ecosystem are what I am here to study. The hemlock woolly adelgid is an invasive insect that attaches to the base...Read more >