Cameron goes to D.C.

Cameron-transformationAfter three years at Trinity it’s time for Cameron to move on. We were all very happy to learn that Cameron has been offered a position with the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs in the Environmental Fate and Effects Division. In his new job he will evaluate  environmental fate and ecological effects data and develop ecological risk assessments and drinking water exposure assessments for pesticides.

Agent Douglass reported to duty two weeks ago. Cameron, it was great having you as a post-doc for three years and we all wish you the best of luck in your new job. Enjoy the hot and humid summers in DC!

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. :-(

Signs of Spring

Lucian and Myles having way too much fun describing floodplain soils

Lucian and Myles having way too much fun describing floodplain soils

Our measly winter has been coming to an early end this year. Even before the first spring flowers appeared, Christoph took his soils class out of the classroom and into the field. Digging was a bit limited a few weeks ago when he and his students visited Zion Cemetery, where soils are characterized by a thin deposit of eolian sediment. Here we described our first soil profile, measured infiltration rates and tried not to look too suspicious.

Doing a bit of sampling in the local cemetery.

Doing a bit of sampling in the local cemetery.

This week we went to Wethersfield Cove, where we studied floodplains and floodplain soils. The river was still high, but none of us got too muddy, and we had a good view of the partially flooded floodplain and immature floodplain soils. Next week we’ll be digging up the hydric soils of Wintergreen Woods and, maybe, the Wilkus Farm.

Lauren determining soil color.

Lauren determining soil color.

Oysters behind McCook

Ryan telling us about the oyster harvest

Ryan telling us about the oyster harvest…

The topic of Jon’s senior seminar sounds pretty grim: For several weeks now, our senior have learned about “our dying oceans”. A few weeks ago, on a beautiful, sunny March afternoon, Ryan Birch (’98) who is working as assistant conservation office in Brewster, MA paid us a visit and taught us all about oysters, how to grow them, how to harvest them, and – most importantly – how to shuck and eat them. :-)

... selling us on smoked Tabasco sauce ...

… selling us on smoked Tabasco sauce (with David looking a bit skeptically) …

... and after showing us the tool of the trade ...

… and after showing us the tool of the trade …

... the first oyster is almost ready to be eaten.

… the first oyster is almost ready to be eaten.

Scott is an old pro with the oyster knife...

Scott is an old pro with the oyster knife…

... and Lauren figures it out pretty quickly too.

… and Lauren figures it out pretty quickly too.

Needless to say, there were no leftovers. Thank you Ryan!

bonus video

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).

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.


Nick Uline from Woods Hole’s Marine Biology Lab visits McCookout

Nick talking to one of our students during McCookout

Nick talking to one of our students during McCookout

Nick Uline visited McCookout today, telling students about the Semester in Environmental Science Program (SES) at the marine biology Laboratory (MBS – these guys sure like acronyms ;-) at Woods Hole. The program offers an exciting semester focusing on global change and biochemistry on Woods Hole’s campus on Cape Cod. Our environmental science majors could transfer three courses which count towards their major. These courses would replace Methods in ENVS (ENVS 275L) and two electives. Since the second half of the semester is spent on an independent research project, our majors could also fulfill their integrating experience requirement at woods Hole and might even expand their project into a thesis.

The program is a great opportunity for students who would like to go on to graduate school. It offers plenty of great science and allows you to make the first connections in the graduate school world. You should give it some serious thought!

Cassia Armstrong and Andrew Agard Present their Project for Peace

Cassia and Andrew presenting their Project for Peace

Cassia and Andrew presenting their Project for Peace

Not only did Cassia join us for our ENVS field trip to Utah in May and work for Jon Gourley over the summer, she also found time to install a rainwater harvesting system in Trinidad. The project originated from a research proposal that she and Andrew Agard wrote for their ISP first-year seminar. The two then submitted their proposal entitled Promoting Peace through Environmental Sustainability to the Davis Foundation and won a 10,000 dollar grant to design and install their rainwater harvesting system to support a community-based reforestation project in Trinidad.

Cassia and Andrew started with a short overview of their project and followed up with a video documentary produced by Cassia. The video is not quite up yet, but you can read about their project here.