Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Diversity of our Meadow Ecosystem

The summer is now in full swing and my first round of data collection is finished. It is one of several sampling sessions, which will coalesce into snapshots of the pollinator–wildflower relationship through the summer. The sampling process came with periods of frustration, elation, and the excitement of collecting this data in the meadow for the first time.

What kind of data am I collecting exactly? The type of data can be divided into two parts: pollinator activity and wildflower diversity. The first can be trickier than the second, mainly because pollinators (bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and others) can move quickly and plants don’t. Every two weeks I inventory pollinators present in the study area and which wildflowers they are visiting. I also record the flowers that are in bloom and the number of inflorescences (groups of blooming flowers) to measure the resources for pollinators in the meadow over time.

Wildflower diversity is the second part of the study and is simply a measure of the amount of species and their relative population densities. Both of these values together (what scientists like to call species richness and evenness) combine to create an index of biodiversity. The more diverse an ecosystem is, generally the more resilient it is in the face of adversity.

The central question behind this research project is: what management practice (controlled burns or mowing) will keep the meadow from reverting back into forest while maximizing the diversity of wildflowers and activity of pollinators? Timing also matters and experimental mowing and burning over the next couple of years will provide insight into what is best for the meadow at VINS and what may be best for landowners around Vermont. For now, I am off to the meadow to collect data for round two...  

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