Old-Growth Forests in Slovenia

IMG_0859

A foggy view of an old-growth forest dominated by European beech and white fir (the rock is limestone; this forest reserve is on ‘karst’ topography with many large sinkholes).

Faculty member Kerry Woods is spending a month in Slovenia as a Fulbright ‘senior specialist,’ where he is collaborating with colleagues at the Forestry School of the University of Ljubljana to build a network of researchers working with long-term permanent plots to understand ecosystem properties of old-growth forests.  Such forests are interesting, in part, for their rarity.  Europe retains very few old-growth forests, but the small country of Slovenia (one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe) has quite a few tracts, and several host study plots established over 30 years ago.

Such under-used, heritage data-sets can give us insight into the ‘baseline’ properties of forest ecosystems.  Does diversity increase or decrease with forest age?  Old forests can be very large carbon reservoirs on a per-area basis, but are they acting as carbon sources or sinks?  Do such properties and processes converge among old-growth temperate forests in different parts of the  world (for example, the old-growth forests Woods studies in Michigan)?

The project will culminate with a workshop attended by researchers from several European countries.  The workshop will, we hope, lead to future collaborations undertaking integrative meta-analysis of data-sets from temperate forests around the world

 

; they can help us understand the processes that maintain diversity,

Old-growth Fieldwork

IMG_0340

Part of the study area at the Dukes Natural Area in the Hiawatha National Forest

Two 2014 grads — Joe Kendrick and Ellen Hanson — and two current students — Charlotte Uden and Roi Karlinsky — are spending four weeks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula working with faculty member Kerry Woods in his on-going research on old-growth forests.  They join about 40 other student researchers who have worked on this project since 1989.

IMG_0362

It’s good to find a log for lunch; the mosquitoes are worse near the ground. (Roi Karlinsky, Joseph Kendrick, Ellen Hanson, Charlotte Uden)

The project revolves around monitoring of permanent study plots established as early as 1935 — one of the longest-term records for any old-growth forest.  The work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, The Huron Mt. Wildlife Foundation, and Bennington College faculty grants. A series of resulting publications can be downloaded from this site.

The 2014 season features a late season — trees are still leafing out along the Lake Superior shoreline, where ice-floes were still present three weeks ago — and unusually numerous and hungry mosquitoes.  A large supply of deet (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is proving essential.

Faculty Research on ecological effects of changing climates

IMG_4504

Old-growth forest at the Dukes Research Natural Area (U.S. Forest Service) in northern Michigan — source of the data-set used in published analyses.

Faculty member Kerry Woods participated in a multi-author study assessing the effects of climate change on forest understory communities in North America and Europe.  Using multi-decade data-sets from 29 research sites analyses show that a general trend of compositional change reflecting increases in warm-adapted species may be moderated where forest canopies have become denser. This work was published online (before print) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science  in a paper titled “Microclimate moderates plant responses to macroclimate warming” (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1311190110).  Woods contributed one of five data-sets from North America; his long-term studies in old-growth forests of northern Michigan have supported several other publications.  Another of the North American data-sets is from Peter White of the University of North Carolina — a Bennington alum from 1971.

This research has been reported by the BBC, on Belgian national news (including a video clip of lead author Pieter de Frenne of University of Ghent — in Dutch), and in press releases from Oxford University and several other universities.

Another Hardware Hackathon Win

Cheesy Fingers installed in a Facebook OpenCompute server

On June 19th, I traveled to Facebook headquarters to compete in the second OpenCompute hardware hackathon.  The team was comprised of Steve White, Dave Kaplin and Matt Gambardella of Nebula, as well as myself.  Our previous entry won the first hardware hackathon, and involved wireless server debugging (it was called Cheesy Fingers).  Since then, Cheesy Fingers has entered production, and we were even able to test it out in a Facebook server!

Our entry this time was a wireless server debugging aggregator – basically, a device that hooks up to our wireless mesh network and sends and receives data to and from the servers in a data center rack.  We built the device, codenamed “Big Cheese” on top of the popular Raspberry Pi single-board computer. Continue reading

Science Workshop 29 March — Long-term studies, ecological baselines, and the way things ought to be:

old-growth

A high-biomass old-growth stand of eastern hemlock in northern Michigan

After decades of studying ancient forests, we’re less confident of what we know about them than we were thirty-five years ago.  For the last 20+ years I’ve been working with long-term permanent study plots in old-growth forest in Michigan.  I began with the hope that an exceptionally deep data-record would allow me to test hypotheses about mechanisms behind equilibrial dynamics.  Now I’m convinced that our initial assumption — that these ecosystems represented a sort of steady-state, climax ‘baseline’ — was flawed, and the natural landscape is much more dynamic than we imagined.  If that’s the case, what are the implications for concepts of nature conservation and ecological restoration?  What is to be conserved or restored if there’s no detectable natural baseline condition?

I will review about the findings of my old-growth research with a focus on new results, talk about  some new work using new technologies to try to understand whether these forests are carbon sources or sinks, and wind up with some exploration of what this all means for forest conservation priorities under climate change, Pleistocene rewilding, and the cloning of extinct species.

Scenes from the Fall Poster Session

The hallways of Dickinson were abuzz with science students and faculty, along with friends and supporters from across the College, on Friday December 7 for the Fall Term Poster Session. The building was a hive of activity as students discussed their work, asked questions, and generally enjoyed the challenge of substantively engaging with each other and the broader community about their projects.

Faculty member David Edelman talks to students Katie Giarra and Marilee Goad about the Animal Physiology poster “The Effects of Serotonin on Aggression in Subordinate Crayfish” (photo: Julia Evanczuk)

Roughly thirty posters were presented by students from Physics I, Comparative Animal Physiology, and Foundations of Physical Science. These courses range from introductory to advanced levels and the nature of the work reflected this diversity, featuring experiments of students’ own design, literature reviews, laboratory measurements of physical phenomena, and investigations of alternative energy possibilities for the campus and beyond. Selections of posters from each class will be posted on this site in the near future.

Top: Emily Mikucki (’13) discusses her poster “Fitness Consequences Associated with Variation in Developmental Temperature in Cabbage Butterflies” with dance and environmental studies student, Kaya Lovestrand (’14). (photo: Betsy Sherman)
Middle: (left) Chemistry faculty member Janet Foley asks Evan Braun (’13) about his animal physiology research; (right) Evan’s poster “Survey of Worker Ant Plasticity as Mediated by Classical Conditioning” is displayed along with his subject ants in the foreground (both photos: Julia Evanczuk)
Middle: Caroline Barnhart (postbac ’13) describes her work on the impact resistance and force transmission of different helmet designs (photo: Julia Evanczuk)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several students gave demonstrations to help explain or place their work in context. For example, Carl Johanson (below) arranged for a  live performance from Lance, a five-year old American Cream horse, a nearly extinct breed of draft horse, for his demonstration of “Horsepower, the Other Way of Getting Energy from Biomass.”

Foundations of Physical Science student Carl Johanson (’14) introduces Lance, an American Cream draft horse, to onlookers as part of his presentation on animal power. (photo: Mike Goldin)

 

Biology faculty member Amie McClellan discusses recent work from her lab with Computing faculty member Andrew Cencini and others. (photo: Betsy Sherman)

Honorary student (and actual faculty member) Amie McClellan, enjoying the last full week of her sabbatical, also presented a poster as a sort of trial run for her upcoming presentation “EMC2 Encodes a Putative Novel Hsp90 Co-chaperone in Saccharomyces cerevisiae“, co-authored with Tambu Kudze (’10), at the 2012 Annual Meeting of The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) in San Francisco, CA.

photo: Mike Goldin

 

 

Finally, good food made the event even more enjoyable. Faculty and staff brought in homemade breads and dishes such as Vegetable Lo Mein and Beef Vindaloo, as well as delicious desserts for all to enjoy.

 

The view from the second floor. (photo: Mike Goldin)

No newts is bad newts!

In March 2012, Biologist Betsy Sherman and alumna Katie Van Munster (’08) published a paper entitled, Pond pH, acid tolerance and water preference in newts of Vermont, in the journal Northeastern Naturalist. The red-spotted newt is found in both acidic ponds (pH values of ~4) from the Green Mountains and more alkaline ponds of the Taconic Mountains (pH values of ~8). Newts from the high and low pH ponds exhibited different behavioral and physiological reponses to water of different pH. The research revealed that newts have adapted to acidic conditions that are due, in part, to human activity.  Sherman and her students continue to study whether these adaptations are due to divergent evolution among the different populations of newts.  A short description of this work was also published in the popular conservation magazine, Northern Woodlands. Click on the image below to see the article.

Old-growth forests in Portland

Over thirty Bennington students have worked with faculty member Kerry Woods in his ongoing, long-term research in old-growth forests in Michigan.  The most recent results from that project were presented in August, 2012 at the 97th  national meetings of the Ecological Society of America in Portland, OR. You can find a copy of the poster presentation here.

The photo shows two members of the 2009 field crew at work at the Michigan field-site.