Biology department gains new land
December 14, 2016
Filed under Features
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A ten acre tract of woodlands called the Weigle-Roslien forest, including an old sugar maple and single basswood forest, was donated to Luther College by emeritus David Roslien (‘59) and Larry Weigle (‘59) several years ago. This year Associate Professor of Biology Beth Lynch and her students established six 20 by 20 meter permanent forest research plots for studying.
“By ‘permanent plot’ we mean that we put stakes in the corners so that every year we can go back and find the same spot,” Lynch said. “Inside the plots the students identified all the trees and measured their diameters, made a map of all the locations in the plot, looked at small diameter, woody things like saplings and they also looked at the ground flora.”
According to Lynch, other qualities that students observed in their plots were slope, canopy cover and damage to trees. Lynch explained that all these observational inventories are done to enable an analysis of the plot’s ecological movement through time.
“The idea of permanent plots is that you establish some baseline information and then when you go back year after year you can see how the ecosystem changes,” Lynch said. “The cool thing is that we’re using a procedure that’s common to a couple dozen colleges across the U.S. so we can compare data from site to site — through the [Ecological Research as Education Network] (EREN).”
Lynch and her students are participating in a specific project of the EREN called the Permanent Forest Plot Project which shares data from identical studies across the country. According to the EREN website, the project is meant to establish a wide-reaching research mechanism that allows students and faculty to address questions of ecological patterns across a range of locations and ecoregions.
“One big ecological question people are trying to answer from the data collected from these plots across the country is ‘how being on an edge affects how forests change over time?’,” Lynch said. “So we put six plots in the forest — some of them are on the edge of a cornfield and some of them are in the interior of the forest.”
After researching these various qualities of the forest, students then began independently developing research topics about the forest.
“By a month into the course my students had learned a lot about the forest,” Lynch said. “We had been out there every week for lab, I told them some of its history. They then used it to generate research questions of their own.”
Research topics of woods included studies of carbon storage and invasive earthworms. Lynch spoke about the difficulty of the research.
“Researching carbon storage means going out there and figuring out how big the trees are, how much carbon is in each each tree, measuring the carbon content of the soil and then estimating the amount of stored carbon in the ten acre piece of forest,” Lynch said. “It was an ambitious project, and they found out really cool information. There is really high organic carbon storage in the soil. It is a really ancient forest.”
Besides the intensive research, Lynch explains that being near the old growth sugar maples and the single stemmed basswoods is an exceptionally valuable experience.
“I think when you walk in there it’ll feel different than other woods which I think it is an amazing place,” Lynch said. “There is nothing like it around here.”