Summer Research – Krista Ehlert

Hi! I’m Dr. Krista Ehlert and I’m the Thomas McKenna Meredith ’48 Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Science (phew!). My students and I have a plethora of diverse, but connected, research projects. The Ehlert lab at Trinity is focused on ecologically based management of invasive plants, with a special focus on Berberis thunbergii, Japanese barberry. Specifically, we’re looking at the intersection between Japanese barberry, Ixodes scapularis (the black-legged tick), climate change, and Lyme disease. Forests invaded with Japanese barberry have twice as many ticks as those that aren’t; this is associated with the fact that Japanese barberry creates the ideal, humid environment that ticks need to avoid desiccation. Here’s a closer look at what we’ve already completed and are currently investigating in the Ehlert lab:

Recent ENVS alum Adam assessed different survey methods of Japanese barberry in Simsbury, CT. Adam specifically used transects and GIS to quantify the extent of invasion at our study site. Along each 50 m transect, Adam utilized a quadrat to count Japanese barberry density and cover. With GIS, Adam downloaded NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) satellite data to map Japanese barberry locations, as you can see in the map below. The NDVI values closely align with the dense shrubbery that we associated with Japanese barberry from Adam’s transects.

Adam trapped in the barberry with his quadrat.

Map displaying 2016 NDVI vegetation coverage and their equivalent values within the study site.

Blair, another recent ENVS alumna,  investigated the invasivore movement, specifically as it related to Japanese barberry. The invasivore movement is a means of eradicating invasive species through human consumption. In the past, the fruit of Japanese barberry has been used to make…jam! Blair went to work by first conducting a strong literature review of the invasivore movement and how it became popularized. Next, she spent time in the kitchen! Blair was able to successfully produce jam from Japanese barberry, providing an alternative means of controlling this insidious invader.

Blair holding the jam she produced from Japanese barberry fruit, alongside the poster she presented at the student research colloquium in Spring 2017.

Soon to be ENVS alumna Corinne and I are investigating the role of horses as potential vectors of invasive plant seeds. Corinne and I are interested in this research question because we each have a horse! Horses are able to transport invasive seeds not only through their digestive tract, with seeds ending up in their feces (eek!), but their manes, tails, and fur can also easily transport seeds. We’re focusing on the latter for Corinne’s research. Corinne started her research by conducting a survey of Intercollege Horse Show Association (IHSA) horseback riders, to learn about their attitudes toward and knowledge of invasive plants. We will be expanding upon the survey by conducting experiments with our own horses and others to investigate how far seeds can travel when attached to their fur.

Corinne presenting the results of her survey at the student research colloquium in Spring 2017.

Another soon to be alumna, Bailey from the Biology department, spent the summer along with Blair helping me with the Japanese barberry research (see previous blog post!). Bailey will be expanding on this research for her senior thesis in the Biology department, and will be co-advised by Dr. Amber Pitt and I. Specifically, Bailey will be focusing on the effect of microhabitat on black-legged tick abundance on the white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus. White-footed mice are reservoirs of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Ticks feed on mice for one of their blood meals, become infected, and move on to their next blood meal – often a human, thereby transmitting Lyme disease. Bailey will accomplish this research by using live-catch traps in the field, and counting tick load on each captured mouse; after counting is complete, the mouse will be released back into the wild. Overall, we hope that Bailey’s project sheds light on tick load on white-footed mice in a Japanese barberry infested forest.

Biology student Bailey in the field with a Japanese barberry shrub that has been uprooted.

That’s a wrap on what the Ehlert lab has accomplished and is currently doing! I’m actively looking for one or two research students this fall to help on the Japanese barberry project, so if you’re interested, send me an email at: krista.ehlert@trincoll.edu or stop by McCook 123! Or stop by if you’re interested in other invasive plant research!

Summer Research – What the Ehlert lab has been up to

Bailey (left) and Blair (right) having fun pulling Japanese barberry.

This summer, Dr. Krista Ehlert and her research students have been investigating the role of in situ climate change on different management strategies for Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), and how that in turn, affects the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), which serves as a reservoir for Lyme disease. The two summer research students in the Ehlert lab are ENVS alumna Blair Frantz ’17 and Biology student Bailey D’Antonio ’18. A lot of the work we’ve done so far has been setting up open top climate chambers (OTCs) that utilize the greenhouse effect to increase the temperature inside the chamber by 1-3°C – what models are estimating with climate change. We also employed different management strategies for Japanese barberry, such as pulling the plant and applying herbicide and compared those to an untreated control. The data that we’ve collected includes vegetation surveys, temperature recordings, and ticks! This data will continue to be collected into the fall, and once we have a few hundred-ish (or more) ticks, we’ll be testing them for Lyme disease. Overall, we’ve had a great summer and are excited to uncover more about the indirect effect Japanese barberry has on Lyme disease incidence in Connecticut. If you want to learn more about what the Ehlert lab is up to follow us on Instagram @ thescientificlunaticks.

Japanese barberry encircled by an open-top climate chamber (OTC).

Catch of the day!

Study “Abroad”: Semester in Environmental Science at Woods Hole

ses_2_smtext and images by Sarah Messenger ’18

I am spending this semester at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, MA doing a program called Semester in Environmental Science. Being the first Trinity student to do SES I had no idea what to expect. The answer is SES is amazing. So far I’ve had the chance to learn from scientists who are doing some amazing research on climate change, do some awesome field work, hang out with other science geeks, live on the beach, and eat obscene amount of lobster at the dining hall.

SES_1_smThat’s not to say the program isn’t intense. We’ve done more field, lab, and data work up in the last fifteen days than I’ve done in a full semester. We collect data in both terrestrial and aquatic systems meaning I’ve had the chance to try my hand at some cool data collection techniques and equipment. Already I feel like I have a better understanding of how to design experiments and collect meaningful data in order to answer research questions. Even more important, we spend a lot of time working with our data in excel. As a result I not only know how to collect data but I know what to do with it afterwards. I 100% recommend SES to any environmental science (or biology or chemistry) majors who are interested in pursuing research in the future. If you’re interested in applying or just want to learn more please shoot me an email. I’m having the time of my life and would love to see more Trinity students take advantage of this opportunity.

Four weeks at Woods Hole and already a Nobel Prize!

Four weeks at Woods Hole and already a Nobel Prize!

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.

ENVS Senior Presentations Show off Wide Range of Research Interests

Ben presenting his research on stone walls

Ben presenting his research on stone walls

Last Wednesdays ENVS students and faculty were treated to a series of senior presentations about our student’s integrating experience. Maria kicked it off with a talk on altruism and organic markets, finding consumers of large-scale organic markets (think Whole Foods etc.) act mostly for selfish reasons (healthier, better for me), while shoppers in a local neighborhood co-op in Spain cited mostly social and community reasons for shopping at the co-op.

Shoppers at a small neighborhood co-op - image M. Wachtman

Shoppers at a small neighborhood co-op – image M. Wachtman

Rose and Kate presented their work performed while abroad with the School for Field Studies. Rose studied water management in the Ambroseli region of Kenya, while Kate told us about skinks from Whakatiwai regional park in new Zealand.

Shaina and Jenna both introduced us to their mapping projects. Shaina presented interactive maps of schools within the Park River watershed, while Jenna showed off her GIS wizardry skills estimating plant biomass based Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI).

NDVI index for Know Preserve, Avalonia Land Conservancy, Stonington, CT. Image by J. Wilborne

NDVI index for Know Preserve, Avalonia Land Conservancy, Stonington, CT. – image by J. Wilborne

Alessandro and Tori presented research on magnetic properties of lake sediments and data from our weather station respectively, while Ben brought us up to date on current animal studies on and around the stone walls (and compost piles) on professor Smedley’s property.

Our senior presentations will continue this Wednesday with five seniors presenting the results of their honors theses. Presentations will be held on 4/22 in McCook 115 from 1:30 until the bitter end.
Refreshments will be served.
(so, please come – Jon orders too much food anyway)

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.

Brooke Moore (’15) Represents ENVS at Joint Science Presentations

variousThis Thursday Brooke Moore presented the results from her honors research at the 2015 Joint Science Presentations. Brooke used X-ray diffraction (XRD) to quantify the relative abundance of quartz and calcite minerals in a sediment core from Otsego Lake, NY. The watershed of Otsego lake consists mostly of highly magnetic shale, and increased erosion should lead to increased quartz concentrations in the watershed. Brooke’s thesis attempts to identify periods of higher than normal erosion and link erosion patterns to changes in climate through the Holocene.

For more details on Brooke’s thesis you will have to come to her senior thesis presentation on April 22nd.