Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer is here!

Introducing John Loffredo, studying the ecology of invasive species:

It is true that all introduced species are non-native but only some are lucky or unfortunate enough (depending on your prospective) to be called invasive. Notice the tall golden-colored invasive Phragmites in the picture above.

The forests of New England are somewhat of a giant science experiment in that ever since the arrival of the European colonists 400 years ago they brought a nearly endless list of flora and fauna to their new home. The tradition continues today, and the consequences of unleashing such a great number of non-native species onto an un-expecting forest biome, itself no more than 5,000 years old, is still revealing itself to researchers.

To pull or not to pull is the question: will a non-native invasive species become naturalized in its new home? If left to their own devices will non-natives strike the same mutualistic relationships with similar partner species as they did in their region of origin? Is it really practical or a good use of tax-payer dollars to eradicate any and all invasive species from the forests of New England? These are some of the questions posed to plant ecologists today, to which I am only beginning to ponder myself…

And meet Ben Sweet, studying meadow management practices:

It is the beginning of summer and flowers are blooming in the meadow. Across the Vermont countryside clovers, yarrow, buttercup, lupine and a variety of other species are blossoming, providing food for some and beautiful scenery to the rest of us. As bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators gather nectar for food, they carry pollen from flower to flower, helping plants reproduce for next season’s bloom. Together they thrive off of each other – making an age-old relationship that is crucial to habitats around the world.

My research explores processes behind this relationship. Over the course of the summer, I will study how controlled fires and mowing can actually affect meadow ecosystems for the better. If timed correctly, both can help keep a meadow from growing back into forest, rejuvenating it with nutrients while still allowing pollination to occur at peak blooming times. The question is: to mow or to burn and, at what time? Today is my first day of data collection and the beginning of a path towards answering these questions – off to the field!