Krista Ehlert Will Continue Weed (oops – invasive species) Research at Trinity

IMG_5728_SMKrista Ehlert, who is currently finishing her PhD at Montana State University will join our program later this year in August. She will replace Cameron who has been our McKenna Meredith (’48) postdoctoral fellow for the past three years and will move on t – oops I am not allowed to tell you quite yet.

After reading through over 50 amazing applications it turned out that we settled for another weed scientist, which means we don’t even have to change the sign on Krista’s lab (Krista, you haven’t seen it yet, but it’s awesome).

IMG_0752_smIMG_3663_smKrista’s research includes both field (see above) and laboratory (see below) experiments as she works on management plans for areas affected by invasive plants. So, if you ever wanted to know what garlic mustard (Allaria petiolata) or  hairy jointgrass (Arthraxon hispidus) look like then you might want to consider doing research with Krista. If you have already graduated or are already doing plenty of research you can just come back for a visit, or simply google it :-).

I have to warn you though: here is what she had to say about the picture below (after I asked why she sent me pictures of dead bugs):

“They are SO cool!!!! Those are seeds infected with Pyrenophora semeniperda, (the “black fingers of death” or “BFOD” for short) a fungal pathogen that I’m using to control cheatgrass, an invasive annual grass. It kills the seeds, so you have the potential to limit propagule pressure from the seedbank. So you can see the black fingers poking out of the seeds in that one picture, and the picture of the petri dishes is the BFOD growing on agar. – I then harvest it off of the plates to make an inoculum to infect the seeds with.”

 

DSCN1699_smbWhich might also explain what these guys are…

02_8_12 001_smWelcome Krista – we can’t wait to have you in Hartford!

P.S. Happy Earth Day! Originally I wanted to celebrate by posting a picture of our students out on the main quad where they gathered signatures for a petition to end the sale of bottled water on campus. Yesterday, in bright sunshine, they were eager to stay until Sunday – and then the forecast changed to “chance of showers” and off they went. No pics, no post, no glory. :-(

Dr. Amber Pitt joins ENVS Program

Amber Pitt

Amber Pitt

One thing that kept us all busy during the first weeks of the semester was the search for a new conservation biologist. After reading many, many applications, coming up with short-lists, checking them once, checking them twice, meeting lots of candidates via Skype and in person, we made our decision and offered the position to Amber who gladly accepted.Just in case you wondered what a "hellbender" looks like.

Just in case you wondered what a “hellbender” looks like.

Amber is currently an assistant professor of biology at Bloomsburg State University in Pennsylvania, where she studies amphibians, especially hellbender salamanders. This Fall she will teach a non majors course on conservation biology and co-teach our methods with Joan Morrison.

As many of you may know, Joan Morrison is on phased retirement and will only teach a few more courses for us. So, if you ever wanted to take conservation biology with Joan: Don’t delay, sign up today (OK, once course registration opens).

While you were hanging out in Acapulco …

… Professor Christoph Geiss went to scenic Iowa – western Iowa to be precise. Christoph spent a long weekend at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

Now, that's a sky worth traveling for.

Now, that’s a sky worth traveling for.

While many of you got roasted on the beach, Christoph took his field training to study wildfires and become a wildland firefighter. The training started out pretty benign. The class learned about equipment (expensive!), life on the fireline and in fire camp (dirty – no showers for a week), and how to use the various hand tools. The highlight of the morning was a fire shelter exercise: Christoph and his fellow firefighter rookies had exactly 30 seconds to unpack a fire shelter, climb into it and drop to the ground (feet to the assumed fire). The exercise was fun, the re-folding of the practice shelters less so. They seemed to get bigger after every drill.

Yep, that's us under our practice fire shelters. The real thing is made of some space-age fiberglass-aluminum composite, weighs a ton and costs even more. We were only allowed to play with the practice version.

Yep, that’s the class under practice fire shelters. The real thing is made of some space-age fiberglass-aluminum composite, weighs a ton and costs even more. We were only allowed to play with the practice version. The guy in the flannel shirt shakes every shelter to simulate the fierce winds to be expected during a fire storm.

The afternoon was spent on fire fighting tactics and safety (Always keep an eye out for your safety zone and establish a solid anchor point!). The class also got to spray some water as they learned about the ins- and outs of fire engines, hose lays and various nozzles.

This thing beats any super-soaker!

This thing beats any Super-Soaker! It empties a 400 gal water tank in less than 10 minutes.

All lined up to fight some fires.

All lined up to fight some fires.

The highlight of the afternoon came after a short hike (in formation, spaced 10 ft apart, tool held on the side at the balance point on the (non-existing) downhill side – no swinging, hacking or stabbing allowed) to a nearby tallgrass prairie. The big bluestem burned quite nicely and provided just enough excitement.

Chad Graeve, the instructor points out the finer points of a grass fire.

Chad Graeve, the instructor points out the finer points of a grass fire.

The group practiced on several small fires. It took the instructors maybe a minute to extinguish theirs, the class was, well, not quite as practiced, but after a few (very) hot hours everybody had three little grass fires under their belts, and knew how to “enter the fire from the heel”, work “from the black”, and learned that a simple backpack pump can do wonders, but that even 4-ft flames put out quite a bit of heat.

A rookie crew at work.

A rookie crew at work.

The final fire of the day.

The final fire of the day.

Christoph also used the opportunity to sample some recently burned soils, go on a few hikes and watched the pro’s extinguish a “real” grass fire, where he learned that the mighty backpack pump may well be an effective fire-fighting tool, but that even a measly “Type 6” fire engine puts out so much more water…

One of Christoph's sampling sites.

One of Christoph’s sampling sites.

Invasive plants: good, bad or just ugly?

Cameron's study site near Mystic, CT

Can you spot the invasive plant(s)? Cameron’s study site near Mystic, CT

Cameron Douglass, our postdoctoral fellow, will give a research talk entitled “Invasive plants: good, bad or just ugly?” on Friday, April 3rd at 3PM in the McCook Auditorium. I hope you all can make it. here is the abstract to Cameron’s talk:

Invasive plants are thought to cause many negative ecological impacts, but new research suggests that they may also play beneficial roles. The problem is that we know little about how the properties of individual invasive species or groups of them might drive those impacts. Our research focuses on this problem, and uses a nature preserve near Mystic, CT to study whether invasive plants are as problematic as advertised, or rather are just misunderstood.   

Refreshments will be available after the talk.

 

A busy spring …

Fossilized remains of one of the earliest (the earliest ?) feathered dinosaurs. Shreds of Joan's field pants clearly visible around bones from the leg.  Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Archaeopteryx_bavarica_Detail.jpg

Fossilized remains of one of the earliest (THE earliest ?) feathered dinosaurs. Shreds of Joan’s field pants clearly visible around bones from the left leg.
Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Archaeopteryx_bavarica_Detail.jpg

… just because you haven’t heard much from us recently does not mean we haven’t been busy for the last months. The two biggest news first: Joan Morrison will enter phased retirement soon (technically she is already in phased retirement, but I try to ignore that as much as possible) and Christoph Geiss was promoted to petrified wood (aka full professor). We have since requested to hire a new conservation biologist and hope to hire a new colleague next year.

Evolution of tenure track faculty. Left: green wood, center: dead wood, right: petrified wood. Christoph has now proudly reached the petrified wood stage.

Evolution of tenure track faculty. Left: green wood, center: dead wood, right: petrified wood. Christoph has now proudly reached the petrified wood stage.

Our students are busy on several research projects. Christoph Geiss’ students are analyzing sediments from Otsego Lake in upstate New York and a salt marsh at Hammonasset State Park. The salt marsh sediments are probably the smelliest sediments ever cored, and they are stinking up the cold room as we speak. A GPR survey conducted this February yielded – absolute nothing. The salty pore fluids, combined with highly conductive clays ate the radar signal withing a few inches of the surface. Good day to work on our tan, though!

March 2015 - Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey at a Hammonasset State Park Salt Marsh

March 2015 – Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey at a Hammonasset State Park Salt Marsh

Cameron Douglass’ students are busy analyzing soils and invasive plants at a conservation area near Mystic, and we will erect a few interpretative signs at that introduce visitors to the various ecosystems encountered at the site.

March 2015 - Ground Penetrating Radar Drawing of a song sparrow to be featured at one of our interpretative signes. Drawing by Eunice Kim

Drawing of a song sparrow to be featured at one of our interpretative signs. Drawing by Eunice Kim

Jon Gorley’s students are still crunching the soils data numbers from their sites in the White Mountains.

The Perks of Volunteering

Last week I spent an afternoon at a nearby elementary school teaching 3rd graders about rocks. The already knew about the rock cycle, but their hand samples were pretty mediocre – pebble size, maybe. So I loaded up our cart with a couple hundred pounds of rocks  and spent the afternoon teaching those kids on “How to become a rock-detective”. It was fun and I got some cool thank-you letters back. Mackenzie clearly remembered what volcanic bombs look like:volcanic bomb
The students wrote thank you letters and asked follow up questions. Here are a few:

Q: What is your favorite rock?
A: A blue schist from Russian River, CA

Q: On a scale from 1 to 1,000,0000 how much do you like your job?
A: 999,980 (nothing is perfect, but some things come close)

Q: What do you teach those College kids?
A: Lots of stuff: Geology, Physics, Climatology, how to do research and plenty more

Q: How much money do you make?
A: Enough to feed my wife, kids, two dogs, and a cat.

Q: What do you do all day?
A: I teach, do research, visit nosy 3rd graders, spend too much time in meetings.

And, finally, I received an awesome portrait, drawn by an amazing artist.awesome portrait
I must say my new friend Angelo got it right: flannel shirt, rolled up sleeves, beard, glasses, rock cart (note the ripple marks on the sandstone!!) – the works.

:-)

ENVS Faculty Participate in Treehouse Lecture Series

Hammonasset State ParkIn April Christoph Geiss and Joan Morrison will both give lectures or lead discussions at the Treehouse. On April 8th Christoph will give an introduction to landscape photography, sharing some advice and enjoying the excuse to show cool pictures. On April 22nd Joan will lead a discussion on the connection between “Environmental Health and Human Health“. We hope to see you all.

Yes, for all you bird folks out there: these are “sanderlings” a migratory bird species fattening up on Long Island Sound before heading back north to their breeding grounds in northern Canada. Who says a geologist can’t do birds. :-)

2014 Iceland Fieldtrip is Full

2008_Iceland_groupNext year’s field trip to has filled up. Cameron, Jon and Christoph will take 12 students on next year’s trip to explore the southern part of the island. Jon’s already busy updating our gear lists, chief paparazzi Christoph bought a new camera. Cameron? Well, Cameron is looking into the authoritative works on edible Icelandic weeds. We are so ready – and it’s going to be awesome!

Utah Art Show Opens With Free Food

Utah exhibitJust as a reminder: Christoph’s exhibition of black and white photographs from Utah and Arizona has its grand opening tomorrow. Chris Guilmartin from the Calendar Office promised “southwestern-themed” food. Let’s find out what that is…

No McCookout tomorrow – artsy-fartsy grand opening instead! Wear your turtle-neck, beret, horn-rimmed glasses and artsy tweed jacket* and you are good to go.

:-)

*or your ENVS Fleece

Cameron Douglass Gives Talk About Invasive Species

Douglass_talkIn his talk entitled “How the West was won … and then lost to an alien invasion” Cameron Douglass, our Thomas McKenna Meredith ’48 Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Science (longest title in the program!) talked about the invasion of riparian habitats by tamarisk, Russian olive and other alien species. His talk focused on the effectiveness of various management approaches to invasive species removal and native habitat restoration.