We were very excited to return to the Northeast Natural History Conference this spring, our first time attending back in person since 2019! Undergraduate Environmental Studies student Peter Kaires presented his semester research project on phenological changes in yellow trout lily, Erythronium americanum, drawing on specimens in the ESU Buser Herbarium as well as other regional herbaria. PDF version
In Fall 2020, the ESU Plant Ecology course was a participant in the Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN) Flexible Learning Project, Plants in the Human-Altered Environment. The EREN Flexible Learning Projects were developed to provide students with course-based original research experiences in a variety of course formats, across in-person, hybrid, and online learning. Plant Ecology was taught in a remote format in Fall 2020, and students were able to independently document trees in various areas near where they were living, and compare these tree communities to areas studied by the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) using the same field methods. This allowed the class to understand how trees differ between human-dominated areas and the less developed sites of the NEON study. This experience is described here in the NEON blog.
Three students in the Plant Ecology course developed this work further over the Spring 2021 semester and presented their findings as a poster at the Botanical Society of America Annual Meeting (Botany 2021, virtual). Their poster is below and can be viewed as a PDF here. Congratulations to these students on their successful presentation at a national conference!
We've had two conference presentations from the lab this semester!
At the Northeast Natural History Conference, ESU graduate Ali Machrone (now a graduate student at SUNY Binghamton) presented a poster highlighting natural history education work on the ESU campus. This includes her work at ESU's Schisler Museum of Wildlife & Natural History and McMunn Planetarium, as well as her research project developing a checklist of the bird species that can be found on the ESU campus. The poster also highlights the ESU Campus Arboretum Guide, developed by poster co-author Weston Strubert, a former ESU graduate student.
Check out the full-sized poster here.
Brittney O'Connor presented her milkweed research (part of a project with ESU graduate Liz Deecher, now a graduate student at Penn State University) at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania University Biologists (CPUB) annual meeting. Brittney's presentation won second place in her category at CPUB, and she was also the ESU winner of the CPUB Outstanding Student Award. Congratulations!
Remember last summer's milkweed research? Liz Deecher (ESU '19, Environmental Studies) is presenting her research as a poster at the virtual Botany 2020 meeting! Liz (now a graduate student in entomology at Penn State) is joined by ESU undergraduate Brittney Billman. Brittney had been working on a greenhouse experiment with milkweed this spring, but switched gears to help with data cleaning and analysis in R after we moved to an online semester in March. Last summer's SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) student Nijmih Siryani also contributed to fieldwork for this project last summer. Here's a link to the full sized poster.
I also presented a Lightning Talk on ESU's Arboretum and some of the outreach we've been able to do with that project. The arboretum booklet is available here.
Over the last week, students in the Plant Ecology lab have been helping to survey a floodplain in Cherry Valley, to document the existing structure of the plant community before an upcoming restoration project. It's been fantastic to be able to work with The Nature Conservancy to study this site.
The students got practice in plant ecology research: running transects, placing quadrats, identifying species, and estimating vegetative cover (and learning how to adjust a compass declination!).
This is a great site to get practice in identifying some challenging groups of plants: grasses, sedges, and rushes (collectively referred to as graminoids). There are a lot of these species to contend with: the grass family Poaceae contains about 10,000 species globally, and 275 species just in Pennsylvania, representing about 10% of all the plant species in the state. The sedge family Cyperaceae has 274 species in Pennsylvania, of which about two-thirds belong to the diverse genus Carex. Confirming the identity of many species in these groups requires collecting the plants and examining their structures under the microscope. These are just a few of the species we found!
Up close, you can see a lot of detail on these fruiting structures! In addition to dissecting these plants to identify them with a botanical key, we can compare the plants we found to previously-identified specimens from these groups of plants stored in the Buser Herbarium at ESU.
This site is also a great place to see how small changes in hydrology can drastically change the vegetation: there are patches with more woody plants, and very wet patches with species that aren't as common throughout the rest of the site.
We've already identified about 70 species at the site, and there are still more to identify! This has been a great experience for our students in field botany and ecological research, and provides valuable training, especially as botany education and training is generally on the decline.
Here are just a few of the other plants our students found at the site:
We have a lot of projects in the Plant Ecology lab this summer! Here are a few highlights:
Cole Davis (Environmental Studies) and Liz Deecher (Environmental Studies), undergraduate researchers in the lab, are both May 2019 graduates! Cole participated in the ESU Summer Undergraduate Research Experience Program in 2018, studying invasive riparian plants. Liz has been researching plant-insect interactions with common milkweed, monarch butterflies, and oleander aphids. Congratulations!
Liz Deecher (Environmental Studies '19) and Weston Strubert (MS Biology) presented their research at the Northeast Natural History Conference in April. They also both presented at the ESU Student Research and Creative Activities Symposium. Great job!