2017 Field Notes from Pennsylvania Mountain Natural Area Research Interns
Austin Lynn and Jacqueline Staab are the 2017 MALT research interns who along with conducting research on site, also lead summer hikes for the public. Austin and Jacqueline will be sending us updates on their work at Pennsylvania Mountain. Please find their Field Notes below.
"I am a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri. 2017 is the fourth summer I will spend on Pennsylvania Mountain conducting research on alpine plant ecology. Ecology is fascinating because of the myriad of ways different organisms can interact, and my research deals with two types of interactions, the impacts that exotic plants can exert on natives and the symbiotic relationships that insects have with pollen-producing flowers. All of my research is focused on dandelions, of which there are native North American Species that above treeline in the alpine! I am delving into the effects of exotic dandelion encroachment into native dandelion habitat, as well as differences in pollination ecology between the two species. Once I earn my PhD, my goal is to teach and mentor students at a small liberal arts college, while carrying on the summer alpine research at Pennyslvania Mountain!"
Field Notes from Austin:
The start of this field season has both brought back familiar feelings and yielded new surprises and tasks. I am working on the same sites that I have grown to love over the past four years, but now I am working with bees as well as flowers! I never paid the bees much mind before planning for this summer; I would occasionally stop to pet them as they fed on an alpine thistle or chuckle to myself as they tried to sip nectar from my blue and purple field shirt. This year however, I am exploring pollination of flowers, and what a better way to do that than to catch bees and make them forage on flowers you have selected! Working with the bees is more like a means to an end than the entire point of the project- I am curious about traits in pollen that enable it to be successful, and successful pollen must be picked up by bees and carried to another flower.
In addition to the novel bee work I have been delving into, I have been fascinated and alarmed by the accelerated pace of the progression of the field season. My research in the summer is driven entirely by phenology, or the timing of biological events. When things start to heat up and the snow melts earlier in the season, the flowers in turn bloom sooner as well. For example, I noticed one of the species of dandelions that I work with blooming at least ten days sooner than it bloomed at the same location in 2015! This makes me think not only of how global warming is intensely impacting the ecosystem, but also (and much more selfishly), it reminds me that I need to get in gear and get stuff done sooner than I had originally planned!
"I am absolutely thrilled to be a MALT intern this summer on Mount Penn. I am originally from Morehead City, NC but have been living in Boone, NC for the past few years. I recently graduated with a degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology from Appalachian State University. Last summer was my first summer doing research on Mt Penn and I just couldn't wait to get back. This place lights my soul on fire. Have you ever been to a place that you've really just connected with? The Rockies are just amazing. Also, I LOVE field season. I'm happiest when surrounded by nature and that's all this place is. Plus I get to go on adventures everyday outside and hike through alpine tundras with phenomenal views and the most delicate little wild flowers (which really aren't delicate at all after all they live on the tops of mountains) or rich green forests with powerful blue rivers.This summer I will be doing preliminary research for my graduate studies. I’ve got a lot of options on what to study, but due to my borderline insane passion for bees, i’m thinking about studying something along the lines of nesting behavior and/or habitat suitability for either solitary or bumble bees."
Field Notes from Jacqueline:
I couldn’t imagine a more inspiring place to do research than here in the Colorado Rockies. They are absolutely breathtaking, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. After arriving in Colorado from North Carolina on Tuesday, I am finding it a little hard to breathe. Since I’m still in the acclimation process, I’ve been filling my time with scientific journals and books studying up for my research. I’ve also done a few scouting hikes just to see how far along we were in the season with the snow melt, bee behavior, and plant flowering. After all, I couldn’t remain this close to Mt. Penn without going. Mt. Penn is as beautiful as ever and still has some pretty big snow mounds in the krumholz area leading up to slope one but they seem to be quickly receding. I plan on officially starting my field work tomorrow continuing a pollen library I've started for alpine plants and doing some scouting for bee nests (wish me luck). I’m also waiting for my respirator to come in so I can get to some old bee boxes used for prior nesting experiments that have been stored under a porch without getting hantavirus, a virus which infects rodents without causing disease but is lethal to humans. I will use these boxes for one of my experiments to test bee preference for nesting sites. This field season is going to be amazing and I can’t wait to share it with you! I also spent some time this week advertising our guided nature walks on Pennsylvania Mountain in and around town while raising local awareness of MALT, environmental stewardship, and conservation. The local shop owners and employees were very receptive and many plan to attend. It was really nice to get to know the awesome residents of Fairplay and Alma and to see all of their interest in our work up on Mt. Penn. I sincerely want to help the planet become a better place by sharing my passion, devotion, and appreciation of the natural world with others and inspiring them to action. I’m really glad for the opportunity to do that here in Park County.