Thursday, September 13, 2012

Field Site or Classroom?

The answer to this post's title is - both!

This past week I lead a lab exercise I developed for the course I'm TAing this semester, Ecology Lab, out in one of my Glossy buckthorn field sites.  The primary instructor, Professor Catherine Graham, was away on a conference, and rather than teach one of the old lab activities, I decided to get out into the field with my class of 19 students.  I knew I wanted to do a lab that covered some general information on non-native species and going into this TA from the beginning, I thought it would be fun to incorporate my nearby field sites into the course somehow.  So here was a great opportunity!

I wasn't interested in having my class 'do' my field work for me, so I had to come up with something that made sense to carryout in these plots.  I realized that I could plan an activity that answered some question, or curiosity, of mine about these sites, but that I just haven't had the time to delve into myself. For example, looking around my field sites, I'm often curios about what species are in these plots, beyond simply characterizing them as oak-birch-beech upland forests.  So this last Friday I had the students run belt transects in one of my plots and in a near-by section of woods that has only a small number of buckthorn plants present.

I haven't done to many analyses on the data yet, but looking at overall number of plants counted and relative frequencies and densities of individual plant species, a few things definitely stand out.  The most obvious is that maple leaf viburnum is a very common species in the woods around Stony Brook University.  Low-bush blueberry also seems to be pretty common, though more variable than the viburnum.  Another is that there were fewer plants counted in the buckthorn plot.  There are hundreds of explanations for this and almost no way our data will address which explanations are plausible, but as an observation, I thought it was interesting.  As an assignment, I have my students doing a few analyses and making some interpretations and speculations about our observations - I'm really excited to see what they come up with!

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