By Aleta Wiley
In the final week of the Summer Research Program in Ecology for Undergraduates at Harvard Forest, all 33 students participated in the Student Symposium on August 11-12 in the Fisher Museum. Over a day and a half, all the students presented 15 minute talks to an audience comprising program mentors, university professors, Harvard Forest researchers, family members, and of course, their fellow students.
As each student discussed his/her summer research, the audience was impressed with the diversity of projects presented (Abstracts are available here). Since Harvard Forest is an LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) site, several students had continued large-scale research projects that have been operating for several years. Two students collected and analyzed data from the Hurricane Plot, an area of experimental forest that sustained a “simulated hurricane” 20 years ago in order for researchers to learn more about the effects of wind disturbance on the land. Other students conducted research on the “soil warming” plots designed to learn how climate change might affect the environment. Two other students monitored woodpecker nests in suburban and natural environments, continuing observations that have been made for 5-6 years.
Not all projects this summer had been long-running, however. Several students helped with experiments that were in their first year, but that are expected to continue long into the future. These students learned a lot about the value of collecting baseline data so that future researchers will be able to detect changes in their plots.
Still other projects addressed more computational and technological advances in the field of ecology. One student used GIS to study distribution of an invasive species; others placed cameras on forest towers to detect changes in phenology, and another student developed models and simulations to learn about climate change.
Two students represented the social sciences and presented results from a survey distributed to 1,000 landowners in Vermont and New Hampshire. And, another student produced a documentary film about paleoecology, which, among other uses, will be incorporated into the Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology program, where local schoolteachers introduce ecology research in their classrooms. (Watch the video on YouTube here: "Secrets of the Mud: A Hemlock Mystery".)
As the Symposium concluded on Thursday afternoon, the students released cheers of excitement as they recognized how much work they had accomplished over the summer and how their time together was quickly approaching an end. A celebratory barbeque was prepared by our ever-hardworking cooks, and the Summer Program came to a close over a beautiful New England evening.