I am pleased to announce that in the next issue of the journal Ecography, I am second author on a research paper. Entitled, The mismatch in distributions of vertebrates and the plants that they disperse, the paper is a first in the sense that there have not been thorough, rigorous studies of the distributions of species that engage in mutualisms at large, geographic spatial scales. In this era of masses of digitized data, we decided to take advantage of what we know about species richness of plants and animals, and study the distribution of those plants and animals that engage in seed-dispersal mutualisms. In these mutualisms, plants offer nutrient resources to animals (carbohydrate-rich fuit pulp, fatty nut endosperm) who in turn provide dispersal services (through digestion or caching of seeds).
In the sixth week of the semester, Ecology Lab students went to the Great Sydney Bog to learn how to classify ecological communities using the the Maine Natural Areas in addition to collect data for a natural experiment looking at plant traits and competition. It rained about 2 cm prior to our visit, but once we arrived the rain cleared up and it was actually a very nice day. In addition to the field trip being many students’ first trip to this bizarre ecosystem, many students had a chance to see carnivorous plants (purple pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea L.) in their natural habitat for the first time! In the bog there were some scattered trees, including black spruce (Picea mariana Mill.), tamarack (Larix laricina Du Roi), and white pine (Pinus strobus). The bog was mostly dominated by ericaceous shrubs, such as sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia L.), labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum Oeder), and leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata L.). We also munched on some eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens L.). It was a mushy day, but it was beautiful out, with cloud cover diffusing the sunlight and the rain washing over the leaves of the plants to reveal the subtle shades of green of each of the species.
Fall is such an interesting time for ecology. As most organisms in these temperate regions grow and reproduce in the spring and summer, the fall is the time of year when they die and leave behind offspring to grow next spring or go dormant to some extent. In the case of many of the common, large woody plants, like the red maple (Acer rubrum), they wind down photosynthesis and eventually shed their leaves. The intermediate metamorphosis (figuritively) results in the incredibly vibrant colors that we associate with fall in the region:
In the third week of the semester, Ecology Lab students went to Reid State Park to collect data on how populations change along environmental gradients! Once at the beach, then created a transect perpendicular to the shore, and sampled abiotic conditions (depth from the top of the intertidal zone, temperature, direction the shore is facing) and abundance of two intertidal species (acorn barnales, Semibalanus balanoides, and wrack, Fucus sp.).