Summer on a Shoestring


Research part II & III: Imaging & Grinding
March 23, 2017, 5:21 pm
Filed under: Foliage, Graduate Projects, Uncategorized

So we last left off with green leaf collection efforts out in the field. Since our experimental research plots are in New Hampshire all of our leaves were frozen for transport! They arrived back in Syracuse and were taken out for our next steps! Because we’re looking at how leaves change over time we focus on dry weights and leaf area for this step.

The best way to get consistent weights on leaves is to dry them. So our frozen leaves, after being removed from the freezer, were weighed, photographed (more on this later), and then placed in our oven for drying at 60 degrees Celsius. Depending on the level of moisture in a sample 24-48 hours of drying is generally sufficient. These dried leaves were then weighed and set aside for grinding.

Did you catch that – we took pictures of leaves! One of ways to measure leaves isn’t just by mass, its by area. Specifically, specific leaf area, or SLA, which is defined as the ratio of leaf area to dry mass. The easiest way to get the area is to photograph the leaf, designate a scale for measurement and then count the pixels in regard to that scale. We used a program called ImageJ for this fancy pixel work, and it was not as hard as it sounds.

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Once the pictures were taken they looked like this:

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and then when they were analyzed for area it looked something like this:

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I am focusing on Beech and Pin Cherry leaves and have less than 100 samples but it still took some time. The pictures above are pin cherry leaves that came from tree #1066 (Which I don’t remember shooting but it’s cool to think that when I go back into the plots I might remember some of the tree leaves that I got from that individual tree!)

Alas, all things come to an end, and this was the end of the road for a leaf to remain whole. After coming out of the drying ovens the bags of leaves were crunched up by hand and were then ground up into fine particles for the next step in our process.

We used a small Wiley Mill for grinding, mostly because our samples were less than 5 grams per sample. Whenever we have larger samples they get processed in a much bigger grinder. Ground samples were fed into a funnel in the machine and collected into glass vials that were labelled:

Here’s Dan looking SO excited that I was taking pictures of him.

It took approximately 5-7 minutes per sample with larger samples taking longer both because of their size but also because static electricity becomes your #1 enemy when trying to get little leaf particles off of things. Dan had this fancy tactic of vigorously hitting the wooden pestle (used for feeding leaf pieces into the mill) against the sides of the metal funnel and it made a bell sound. My experience was not as musical!

Once all of our samples had been ground we were ready for the ashing and digesting steps!

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See you next time!

Gretchen



Research- Part I: Green Leaf Collection
March 11, 2017, 6:47 pm
Filed under: Foliage, Graduate Projects

Hi all! So I started my first semester of graduate school working with the MELNHE project (If you need a refresher poke around on here, the bottom line is that we’re doing nutrient manipulations in a forest). Primarily I’m working with Pin Cherry and Beech leaves to analyze them for leaf area and nutrient composition.  The journey started in August when I went up to our New Hampshire experimental forest in the White Mountains. We were using a shot gun to shoot down tree leaves from the canopy. We wanted sun exposed leaves to collect during the growing season so we could compare them to leaves we collect during the fall. Despite standing still trees can be hard to shoot!

This is Dan (first photo in the grey long sleeves), he’s a graduate student who is ahead of me one semester. He’s looking at the same thing I am but with different tree species, White and Yellow Birch. The second Photo is Adam, a previous graduate student and general mastermind for the melnhe project. Ok, mastermind might be a strong word. But he knows all the forest plots and has more knowledge than a newbie! The last picture is me in green. After shooting down some leaves/branches we would select 10-20 leaves that were healthy (in color and size) and lacked holes from shot or herbivory. Then these leaves would be stacked on top of eachother and packaged in a Ziploc bag that was labelled with what tree they came from. The bags will be frozen and were going to be analyzed so we wore gloves to prevent contamination to the leaves.

Overall we collected over 300 samples! It was a lot of fun if you like being outside and staring upwards, which I do, and I’m really good at it because I’m a birder.

It took a long weekend to finish what we came there for. The cool thing about being in the White Mountains is the ability to tent camp and look at other wild life. I don’t just like leaves and birds, I also like moths and bugs!

Waved Sphinx (Ceratomia undulosa, 7787) and a male forked fungus beetle.

Stay tuned! Next time I will answer the question that is keeping you on the edge of your seat – “what did you do with the bags of frozen fresh green leaves??”



Difficult conditions for litter collections
October 18, 2016, 5:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

October 18, 2016:  Melany sent pictures from C5 and C6, because we were concerned about when to collect fresh litter samples.  “Lots of leaves still on, though I can judge fractions like Nat can with her field savvy!  Only saw a few PC, and they had some but not all leaves left, maybe a little under half?  Not sure.  I’ll look more carefully at c 2 but I think we have elevation in our favor at Bartlett compared to Jeffers Brook.”

October 25, 2016: Nat Cleavitt reported on conditions at Jeffers Brook: “I was not able to collect fresh (not visible) or basket (completely frozen to the baskets in about 1 inch of crusted snow).  The conditions also affect forest floor block work.  I will resume all field collections when weather warms and unfreezes.

“In other news, bobcat sighting and also fresh bear tracks coming down through the mid-age plot road.”

nat1

 



Life in a Little Red House
August 1, 2016, 9:03 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

What is life like in a small red house? Well first off there are snow shoes and sleds on the wall so that’s pretty neat. There’s two comfy couches and a pretty sweet back porch (our favorite place to eat dinner). There’s also a LOT of wood paneling, the most that I’ve seen since pictures of my parents in the 70’s. There’s a pretty spacious kitchen with a GAS STOVE!! I NEVER EXPECTED IT’D HAVE A GAS STOVE!!!

Besides the neat décor there’s a whole bunch of interesting people who are/have been living in this house for the past 8 weeks. It’s been an interesting group of rotating researchers and students. Each with their own quirks and quarks. Throughout the summer we’ve had a huge rotating schedule of things to be done in the field. Every week is different from the previous week and we always know that the next will also be different.

Food. Food is major portion of our life in this little red house. Not only does it give us physical sustenance and energy to continue carrying on with the great scientific endeavor on which we have embarked. It is the time for us to get together and recharge our mental batteries as well. We have spent many hours eating and talking on the back deck about topics far and wide.

Living in the Red house is pretty sweet. Previously I’d only been up here in the winter to go skiing, but this past summer has opened my eyes to the beauty and variety which are available in the White Mountains.

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Does this even need a caption?

 



Grassy Green Glory
August 1, 2016, 5:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The following is a stream of consciousness that materialized as a result of a morning meditation session in the backyard of the red house.

The first green arrived on the scene around 2.7 billion years ago and this powerful verdant force created a hospitable atmosphere for life approximately 0.4 billion years later. Millions of years after this event and the evolution of terrestrial land plants, a floral component provided a niche for the evolution of our first primate ancestor. The radiation of angiosperms, flowering plants, occurred around 60 million years ago, which is around the same time that the first ancestor of primates, Plesiadapiforms, evolved. Some hypothesize that the fruit on terminal branches are what facilitated the evolution of grasping hands, which is a characteristic inherent to primates. Angiosperms enabled the evolution of Homo sapiens who then domesticated lineages of our benevolent leafy companions giving rise to agriculture around 10 thousand years ago. A population boom and the establishment of cites followed. In every conceivable way, our history is inextricably linked with that of plants.

Plants not only dictate our history, but our daily life and future prospects. Humans breathe out and plants breathe in; plants breathe out and humans breathe in. Flora captures noxious gases that are released from our bodies, cars, and coal plants. It then uses that carbon dioxide to create beauty with a functional purpose—leaves to capture the sun’s energy, flowers with a nectar reward to entice pollinators, honeyed fruit to attract seed disseminators, and all the while yielding oxygen as a by-product. This splendor is pervasive and awe-inspiring: a blissful summer day with sun-ripened berries and the thick, sweet smell of honeysuckle; an unforgettable fall with fiery leaves carpeting every surface; a heartwarming winter with a dusting of snow coating fragrant pine needles; a luscious spring with wildflowers exploding across hillsides. Plants provide food and shelter for our beloved birds, invertebrates, and mammals (ourselves included). We live in trees, eat on trees, sleep on trees, and will likely be buried in a tree. We owe our very existence to the green world around us, embrace and respect it.

-Laurel Brigham



High with Fists in the Air
August 1, 2016, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I had no flipping clue how long and intense the Mount Adams trail was going to be when i decided to go along. 

Name’s Sosa, and I have short flipping legs. This made the climb a lot more challenging and the hike felt like forever. Though ironically, time was not on my mind as my goal was to survive, literally. Why literally? The story is that at the beginning of our hike the trail got so intense that my breathing problems got in the way. Luckily someone had an inhaler. Thanks Caitlin. 

But, the trail was beautiful and the stream/water breaks were so satisfying. We had Craig’s pup, Meatloaf, come along and he was the cutest as he jumped in the streams. It was a good laugh when he would start attacking the small falling streams. He gave me life. We miss him ♥

Anyway, after 5 hours or so, the group made it to the tippity top (~5,800 ft), past the trees and into an area of rocks on top of rocks. We got there in one piece with no quitters. ‘Cause momma ain’t raise no quitters. 

Wet shoes and socks, leg cramp, butt cramp, two asthma attacks, sore paws, headaches.

All worth it. 

PC: Shiyi Li, Ben Lee 

(P.S. Everyone was so sore the next day and still went out for field work)



For the love of soil
July 22, 2016, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

IMG_2779Caitlin Buchheim

This is just a glimpse of all the work that Cindy Sosa and I put into our soil research projects. We spent countless hours collecting, sieving, weighing, and manipulating our soil. Our results aren’t completely finished yet…so stay tuned!