Krista Ehlert Gives Talk on Research on Japanese Barberry and Lyme Disease

E-M1_7_smThis Friday Krista Ehlert, our current postdoctoral fellow, gave a presentation on her research project on the links between Japanese Barberry (an invasive plant), Lyme disease and climate change. Krista’s talk was well attended, possibly thanks to at least one difficult mid-term exam and the promise of generous extra credit for students enrolled in the introductory and earth systems courses.

In her talk, Krista pointed out that there is a strong correlation between the abundance of Japanese barberry and black-legged ticks – the main (only ?) vector for Lyme disease in Connecticut. Krista’s research will build on these established relationships between invasive plants, ticks and Lyme disease and study how Japanese barberry will be affected by a warmer climate. In collaboration with the Simsbury Land Trust, Krista will simulate the effects of a warmer climate on Japanese barberry and tick populations using open top chambers. Krista also gave us an outline about her ongoing research projects, which include among others a study on seed dispersal by horses.

If that sounds interesting, contact Krista, and maybe you’ll find yourself out in Simbsury collecting ticks or counting barberry plants.

Krista had a mostly attentive audience ...

Krista had a mostly attentive audience …

... and even Christoph managed too stay awake through the entire talk.

… and even Christoph managed too stay awake through the entire talk.

Our students enjoyed the talk, and Krista may be the only speaker so far ...

Our students enjoyed the talk, and Krista may be the only speaker so far …

… who had fans rushing up to her afterwards to have their pictures taken.

… who had fans rushing up to her afterwards to have their pictures taken.

Waist-deep in mud and other recent happenings

 

Earthquake !

Earthquake !

To say that not much has happened since my last post is an understatement. To say that the transition from a sabbatical back to teaching was no big deal might be even a bigger one. I could get used to showing up in the lab each morning, doing a few measurements and thinking a few deep thoughts in my office… Needless to say, the last few weeks were a bit busy: we hired two new faculty members (more on that in an upcoming post), I am teaching three courses, and my research students keep me busy too.

Nevertheless, I was in for a (very nerdy) treat this Saturday. For years I have been walking past our seismograph, checked the screen and saw nothing, or noticed an earthquake that had happened some place on earth.  “Nice“, I usually thought, “that was a big one, better check out where it happened…“. This Saturday, however, while packing the car for a quick sampling trip to Hammonasset State Park I saw the waves arrive while I stared at the screen. It was cool to think that for a few minutes the biggest vibrations in the building came from a place a few thousand miles away. I stared for a while, returned to packing the car (T.J. was supposed to show up in half an hour, so I didn’t want to be late), and snapped a picture of the screen a bit later. The earthquake, it turned out occurred at 11:26 UTC in the Caribbean, and you can read all about it here.

Looks dry to me ... how tricky can it be to get a core from here?

Looks dry to me … how tricky can it be to get a core from here?

The sampling trip was exciting as well. T.J. and I headed down to Long Island Sound to core a salt marsh in Hammonasset State park. We’ve been there before in the winter of 2014 when everything was frozen. This time it was different: the marsh was one soupy mess. On our first walk out to the coring site, T.J. went in to his knees. On our second trip out I  went in to my chest. That’s when I decided that the camera would stay on dry land. After a few more trial and errors we had it pretty much figured out and stayed dry – until we cut corners – and in we went again. Nevertheless, we got eight meters of hideously smelly core with no bottom in sight. So, we might find ourselves some football players, hope for a colder winter next year, and return in January for a third try. In the meantime, T.J. will analyze what we have, and the cores will stink up the fridge, lending that particular aroma to McCookout stuff.

Psychedelic cores ...

Psychedelic core … HAM 16A – drive 1 – the first of eight beautifully smelly salt marsh cores.

 

White Mountain Research at the Science Symposium

Students presenting the results of their summer research at the Science Symposium

Students presenting the results of their summer research at the Science Symposium

Today, during lunch hour, Jon’s summer research students Cassia, Jack and David presented the results of heir summer research to the wider College community. They had three posters outlining their ongoing research on the effects of clear cutting on Mercury, Aluminum and Calcium concentrations in forest soils. This research project, now in its second year, continues research initiated by Justin and Dan.

David presenting introductory information on the ongoing White Mountain research project.

David presenting introductory information on the ongoing White Mountain research project.

Cassia and Jack showed some of the first results. Cassia focused on changes in organic matter and mercury, while Jack presented data on Aluminum and Calcium.

Jack and Cassia explaining the results of their summer work.

Jack and Cassia explaining the results of their summer work.

Just in case you wondered: yes, Cameron’s crew was pretty busy too all summer. Jordyn presented their research in a poster presentation at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) in Baltimore.

 

Grand Unveiling at the Knox Preserve

Gathering at the Knox Preserve under the watchful eye of several ferocious guard dogs.

Gathering at the Knox Preserve under the watchful eye of several ferocious guard dogs.

Members of the Avalonia Land Conservancy and Trinity’s ENVS program spent Saturday morning at the Knox Preserve in Stonington, CT to unveil four interpretative signs that outline the major habitats of the Knox Preserve. the signs were designed by Eunice Kimm (’14) as part of her integrating experience. During her senior year Eunice worked closely with Drs. Cameron Douglass and Joan Morrison, identifying and drawing birds that are common at the preserve and designing the signs.

Eunice Kimm ('14) enjoying the sunset at Fimmvörðuháls in southern Iceland during our 2014 field trip to iceland.

Eunice Kimm (’14) enjoying the sunset at Fimmvörðuháls in southern Iceland during our 2014 field trip to iceland.

The event started with lots of good food from the First and Last Bakery and a few short introductory statements by Beth Sullivan from the Avalonia Land Conservancy and Cameron Douglass from Trinity College. Beth thanked all the volunteers who help to maintain the preserve and  came out at the crack of dawn to install the signs. Cameron told us about the ecological value of the preserve, the Conservancy’s efforts to combat invasive species and, and Connectiut’s unofficial state plant.

Beth Sullivan and Cameron Douglass standing between us and the coffee. :-(

Beth Sullivan and Cameron Douglass (with borrowed hat!) standing between us and the coffee. :-(

The unveiling took only seconds (I almost missed it), but Cameron kept us entertained by introducing us to the various habitats and the management challenges associated with each.

The moment of truth - no, don't tell us about any typos!

The moment of truth – no, don’t tell us about any typos!

We then went on a short walk through the preserve, learning about the history of the site and the ongoing research performed by Cameron, Joan and their students.

In the meadow part of the preserve.

In the meadow part of the preserve.

Trinity crew with one of Eunice's signs. Sarah, Emily, Cameron with Parker (class of '36), Christoph (luriing Parker with some coffee), and saintly Preston (who still acts surprisingly normal after spending weeks with Cameron's all-female research crew)

Trinity crew with one of Eunice’s signs. Sarah, Emily, Cameron with Parker (class of ’36), Christoph (luring Parker with some coffee), and saintly Preston (who still acts surprisingly normal after spending weeks with Cameron’s all-female research crew)

Wildflowers galore!

Wildflowers galore!

You can learn more about the Avalonia Land Conservancy and the Knox Preserve by visiting the Conservancy’s website or reading Beth Sullivan’s blog. You can see Eunice’s signs for yourself by visiting the preserve and hiking the trails. Directions to the site are here – just don’t mess with Cameron’s flagging tape!

 

ENVS seniors celebrate Earth Day with honors presentations

Dan, Justin and Prof. Gourley in the White Mountains

Dan, Justin and Prof. Gourley in the White Mountains

This afternoon the second batch of senior presentations started off with Bridget, who reported on the Bridges of Hartford and how they affect heavy metal concentrations in the Park River watershed. Bridget was supposed to present last week, but was too busy beating The College of New Jersey in Lacrosse (15-8).

Greg was next, updating us on invasive species work at Knox Preserve in Southington, CT. He investigated the effects of various treatments (mowing, spraying with herbicides) on plant populations, ecosystem diversity and invasive species abundances. His research is part of a longer research effort by Prof. Douglass on invasive species management.

Greg presenting his research

Greg presenting his research

Lia told us about her analysis of soil temperature data that had been collected since 2007. She had some bad news for us: soil temperatures had increased by an average of 0.25C per year, and two of the thermocouples need replacing. Jon and I will get right on it once the semester is over.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On we moved to the White Mountains: Justin presented baseline data for aluminum and calcium concentrations in forest soils prior to clear cutting. Dan analyzed the same sites for mercury and organic matter concentrations. Their work is the beginning of a long-term study on the effects of clear cutting on forest soils in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Justin explaining some finer points of his statistical analyses.

Justin explaining some finer points of his statistical analyses.

Brooke finished the afternoon on a high-note presenting her mineral analyses of lake sediments from Otsego Lake, NY. Brooke used X-Ray Diffraction to quantify the abundance of terrigenous materials in lake sedimenst and reconstruct storm events. Her analyses confirmed the influence of eralier storms and revealed a period of low lake levels between 2000 – 6000 years B.P.

Brooke's lake-level model.

Brooke’s lake-level model.

2015 Thomas McKenna Meredith ’48 Lecture in ENVS

variousCameron Douglass, our current Thomas McKenna Meredith’48 Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Science (still the longest title in the program :-) gave his annual lecture on Friday afternoon. Over the past two years Cameron and his students have performed research at Knox Preserve near Stonington, CT, analyzing the effects of various land management practices on invasive and native species. Cameron began by embarrassing all his research students, proudly presenting them to his audience. He then moved on to describing the difficulties one faces when managing invasive species, and presented the effects of various eradication techniques on native and non-native species. From his talk it became clear that invasive species management is a prolonged process: initial treatment requires a commitment to regular follow-ups. His work also shows that one approach hardly fits all and management techniques have to be tailored to the problems at hand.

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.