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Summer Research Experience: Student Blog

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The Great Coarse Woody Adventure

July 31, 2016, by Rebecca Sparks
Amid the rolling hills and towering trees of Petersham, Massachusetts, this summer I’ve had the opportunity to research carbon storage dynamics in Harvard Forest. At a time when humans are releasing unprecedented levels of carbon into the atmosphere, a comprehensive understanding of carbon dynamics is more important than ever. While many consequences of this change are known, there is still uncertainty regarding ecosystems’ response to climate change. We need to understand how ecosystems handle carbon now so that we can predict how those dynamics might change as we alter the composition of...Read more >

Scratch and Sniff: A Lesson in Plant Identification

July 30, 2016, by Alice Linder
When I was quite young, my parents would page through picture books with me, pointing out the different animals in the illustrations. Once I noticed an animal or shape I’d seen before, I insisted (in the way only a 2-year-old can) that we look through all of the other books to find that same animal. As we found each appearance in turn, I excitedly shouted “Same! Same!” and started the cycle anew with the next animal I recognized. Fast forward to the summer of 2016, and the skills I honed as an annoyingly curious 2-year-old have proved quite useful. I’ve mainly been working out in the field...Read more >

Isn't that Neat?!

July 29, 2016, by Nathan Stephansky
The only constant is change, so I’ve heard. Therefore, life is not about changing the future to attain some desirable outcome, which can be difficult, perhaps impossible, in our ever-changing world. Rather, life is about understanding the present to predict the future to guide us through the unknown. With the changing climate, predicting how ecosystems around the world will respond to increases in temperature, atmospheric carbon, and more unpredictable weather patterns is essential in preparing for our future. With predicted increases of drought in New England, my team at Harvard Forest is...Read more >

Dealing with (Computer) Bugs in the Forest

July 28, 2016, by Moe Pwint Phyu
Imagine you are a scientist with amazing data sets trying to make a groundbreaking discovery. But first, you need to replicate the way that an earlier scientist analyzed data sets for you to contextualize the experiment. And you painstakingly replicate every step of the whole analysis, but then you run into bug after bug in your code. You finally figure out that you missed a crucial step in the data manipulations leading up to the statistical tests—because the earlier scientist forgot to mention it in their methods. My mentors, Barbara Lerner and Emery Boose, try to tackle this problem by...Read more >

The Invasion of Garlic Mustard Plants: The Aliens of Nature

July 27, 2016, by Sydney-Alyce Bourget
Gray slimy skin, large head, and dark piercing black eyes are some features that compose the classic science fiction alien. In typical science fiction fashion, these aliens come from outer space and invade the Earth. Their superior technology and intellect provide them with a competitive advantage over the human race allowing them to monopolize Earth’s precious resources, while annihilating its inhabitants from existence. Although an alien invasion has not occurred in real life, the concept of foreign organisms invading an area is not limited to the world of science fiction. In fact, these...Read more >

Knowing the Dirt on Soil Microbial Respiration

July 26, 2016, by Rebeca Bonilla
I’ve been avoiding this for so long. No matter how cool I think this project is and no matter how much I love experimenting on these tiny organisms, I keep it hidden from her. She has no idea what I’m doing. I know that she'll find out eventually, but for now I've been keeping it hushed up. She knows I’m in the boonies doing scientific research for Harvard Forest under the mentorship of Lauren Alteio and Jeffrey Blanchard, but she doesn’t know I’m working on the effects of climate change on microbial communities in the soil. Sure, it sounds super science-y and complicated, but once I explain...Read more >

Blowing Bubbles for the Sake of Science

July 22, 2016, by Kate Anstreicher
Preview Haiku: (You will understand it by the end of my blog post!) Air-Seeding Threshold: pressure bomb, micropipette… darn. Open vessel. You may see a trend in our 2016 blog post introductions: most students at the Harvard Forest this summer are studying the impact of climate change on the New England forest system. But as you have likely also noticed, our projects diverge from there in a multitude of ways. Some budding scientists collect jars of soil or tree cores. Others work inside with computers, people, or even paint. Regardless of material, we manage to use science, communication and...Read more >

How do I love thee, soil? Let me count thy roots!

July 22, 2016, by Sarah Goldsmith
The next time you find yourself in a hemlock forest, take moment to notice what is around you. Take your gaze skyward to the thick and verdant canopy or downwards to the dim and dappled light that dances in playful patterns across the thick layer of needles carpeting the forest floor. Close your eyes and listen for the myriad of birds and insects that call this forest home or take a deep breath and inhale the rich and distinctive smell of the forest-- the light scent of newly grown needles highlighting the deeper earthy smell of the soil. It is perhaps one of my favorite scenes to come across...Read more >

Field Experiments: The Struggle is Real

July 20, 2016, by Alex Salinas
One of the first things that struck me on my way to Harvard Forest from the Boston airport was the vivid scenery. Coming from the heart of Texas, I couldn’t believe all the lush forests and lakes that surrounded me. It was all so surreal that it took me a few hours to convince myself I was actually here. What I was excited for most was the fact that for the next 11 weeks I would get to spend almost every day outside in this beautiful scenery doing field research! Little did I know at the time, however, Mother Nature was not going to let my research proceed as smoothly as I was expecting. One...Read more >

Data is Eating Ecology: How We Make Sense of It

July 19, 2016, by Siqing "Alex" Liu
Marc Andreessen famously proclaimed that “software is eating the world,” and to me, data is certainly eating up ecology. Andreessen meant that software is fundamentally changing how companies and economies work, and that the incumbents will be taken over by software companies. Though not a direct analogy, data is changing ecology by impacting every stage of the scientific enterprise, from hypothesis formation to conclusion. This explosion of data comes from multiple sources, from the proliferation of cheap sensors to the better detail and scope of satellite coverage. This flood of data has...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 >

Climate Change Characters

July 11, 2016, by Karina Agbisit
Think of the most negative and dismissive response to the question of whether climate change is happening. Some things that come to mind are probably yelling, denying, references to private property rights, and bashing left-leaning politicians. Now think of the most positive and affirmative response to the same question—dedication to reducing reliance on fossil fuels, references to scientific studies, and encouraging elected officials to take action now. These two very different set of views on climate make up the ends of a spectrum of American beliefs on climate. The study Climate Change in...Read more >

I Dream of Gmail

July 11, 2016, by Kate Rawson
Dreaming of email, surveys, and spreadsheets.
Which tool is the most important for ecological research? A. Plant identification sheet B. Soil corer C. Microscope D. Map and Compass E. Statistical analysis software What if I told you that the correct answer was F: none of the above and that really, the most important thing for ecological research was a properly functioning email account? Would you believe me? While this may not be true for every project (ecological research is a wide field with a large variety of techniques used to investigate hypotheses) it is certainly true for the project that I am working on this summer. This summer,...Read more >

Coding the Future (of Ants)

July 8, 2016, by Anna Calderon
What if you could see into the future? Perhaps you are interested in knowing where your favorite animal or plant may be located fifty or one hundred years from now. It might be difficult to imagine what the world would look like, but species distribution models attempt to do just that. A species distribution model (SDM) is a method used to produce maps that attempt to predict where a species might occur in the future based on environmental factors that govern its current location. SDMs are powerful tools which have a wide range of applications: for conservation purposes, to predict where...Read more >

Ecology Technology: Where Computer Science and Climate Change Collide

July 7, 2016, by Lauren Ebels
In a time when unpredictable weather events like droughts and floods are on the rise and water is thought to be “the next oil” of the world, understanding water reserves in forests is extremely relevant. Our project at Harvard Forest focuses on transpiration—the process of water movement through plants—and strategies for effective long term observation of overall forest health. While there are a variety of creative methods for gathering information on transpiration and forest health, most of them are implemented on a tree-to-tree basis, or are tedious at the very best. Our project develops...Read more >

Grazing Our Problems Away: How Cows Can Put New England’s Conservation Issues Out to Pasture

July 6, 2016, by Anna Mayrand
Looking at New England’s forests today, it’s almost hard to believe that at one point, most of the land was open fields. In the 1880’s, land was cleared out by settlers to make fields for grazing and farming. The land has since recovered from its deforestation with 80% of the land now being dominated by forest. However, this gives rise to a new problem: the loss of open fields to growing forests. But wait, how can reforestation be a bad thing? Why not let the landscape return to its original state? Turns out in all the time these open fields were maintained, ecosystems adapted and new fauna...Read more >