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Cofrin Center for Biodiversity

Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Understanding a forest by measuring the trees!

Sara Smith and Austin Carter presented a poster titled “Ecological Dynamics of an Upland Mesic Forest in Brown County, Wisconsin” at the Wisconsin Alliance for Minority Participation (WiscAMP) conference in Madison on October 18, 2012. This annual conference highlights research by WiscAMP student scholars and brings together minority students from throughout the UW system. Sara described her experience at the Madison conference as “Amazing!” She said “It was a bit nerve-racking at first, but I got to meet a lot of very influential and interesting people while I was there. It gave me the opportunity to see what other students are doing across the state, along with an opportunity for networking.” The WiscAMP program provides scholarships to qualified minority students to participate in research in the sciences and mathematics at UW-System universities including UW—Green Bay.

Sara Smith in Mahon Woods.

Sara Smith in Mahon Woods

Their poster described the results of a summer-long survey of trees in a forest plot on the UW—Green Bay Cofrin Memorial Arboretum. Along with 3 other undergraduates worked through the summer to measure and identify over 2400  trees in a rectangular (60 m x 270 m) 1 hectare plot in Mahon Woods. They also mapped and tagged new trees and documented mortality of trees that had been marked in 2007.The Mahon Plot was established in 2007 as a satellite plot designed to help ecologists at UW—Green Bay and the US Forest Service to prepare for the installation of a 25 hectare plot in located near Wabikon Lake the Nicolet National Forest. Every tree or shrub with a diameter at breast height over 1 cm on the plot was identified to species, measured and tagged. Smith, Austin and the other students re-censused the plot in order to better understand forest ecology.

The results of the re-census indicate that the forest has changed over the last 5 years. They found that tree mortality was three times as high as tree establishment indicating that the number of trees in the forest has declined. However, they also found that the total woody biomass and average size of trees increased between 2007 and 2012. So, while the total number of trees the number of trees in the plot is decreasing but the average size of trees is increasing. Their findings illustrate that the forest is undergoing the process of ecological succession. Although oaks are dominant today, the relative basal area of shade tolerant species like American basswood is increasing.

The Big Picture

So why would we want to measure and tag all of the trees in small plot like this? Permanent research sites like the Mahon Woods Forest Dynamics Plot establish a baseline and opportunities for many future studies of forest dynamics and ecology.  The scientific value of the site is that it will provide long term data on growth and change of trees in an urban forest. This plot may seem small but its value lies in the fact that it is part of a global network of forest plots managed by the Center for Tropical Forest Science at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The network includes over forty forest research plots across the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Sites vary in size from 1-5 hectares for satellite plots to 25-50 hectares for primary plots. Ecologists use identical methodology to census the trees on each plot, regardless of location. This allows data to be compared among sites, even when the forests are separated by 1000s of miles. The goals of this global forest program are to better understand forest ecosystems, monitor the impacts of climate change, and develop long-term strategies of sustainable forest management in a changing global environment.

The educational value of the plot is important as well. This campus location allows students at UW—Green Bay to walk right out the back door of the classroom and participate in an important international research project. Students gain valuable field and research skills and also gain insight into possible career paths. Sara Smith said about her research experiences have guided her educational decisions. “I have learned a great deal about myself and my interests. It has solidified my decision in changing one of my majors to Biology with an emphasis in Conservation and Ecology.” Sara plans on continuing her involvement with WiscAMP program next semester by working with NAS professor Dr. Matt Dornbush on a native grassland biofuel project on the Oneida Reservation.

WiscAMP Scholarships at UW–Green Bay

Funding forSara and Austin was provided by the Wisconsin Alliance for Minority Participation (WiscAMP).  WiscAMP is a consortium of 21 colleges and universities throughout Wisconsin funded by the National Science Foundation in a nation-wide effort to increase the number of underrepresented students achieving undergraduate degrees (and eventually graduate degrees) in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines within five years.

Sara Smith and Austin Carter with their poster at the WiscAMP  conference in Madison, WI.

Austin Carter  and Sara Smith with their research poster at the WiscAMP conference in Madison, WI.

Students considered to be underrepresented minorities (see No. 3 in the application form) in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines are eligible for scholarships. Projects involving any of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields normally supported by NSF are eligible. Human biology majors are also welcome to apply. Recipients must be US citizens or permanent residents.

Scholarships are available for student scholars and student mentors. Scholars gain valuable research experience and a better understanding of the challenges and rewards of scientific research. Mentors share their academic experience with incoming freshman, sophomore students and others, less experienced, junior and senior students and hold weekly meetings with their mentees and organize activities such as study groups, workshops, etc.

 How to Apply for a WiscAMP Sholarship

Interested students should apply to Dr. Alma Rodriguez by submitting a completed application form, a brief description of the proposed research experience (if applying for a research scholarship), letter of intention describing leadership capabilities and motivation to be a mentor (if applying for a mentor scholarship) and an up-to-date academic transcript (does not have to be official copy). All WiscAMP scholars are required to attend and present their work in progress at the WiscAMP annual meeting and/or present their work at the academic excellent symposium on campus. A final report will be required at the end of the award term.

Application Deadlines

  • Spring term: December 12th, 2012
  • Summer: April 26th, 2013

Brown, Kewaunee, Shawano, and Oconto Bird Surveys: May 26 to June 24, 2010 by Erin Gnass

As I mentioned in one recent blog posting entitled “May 26, 2010 by Erin Gnass,” I performed bird surveys for the greater part of the month of June for my thesis project—the index of ecological condition model, as applied to northern hardwood forests of Wisconsin. In order to most appropriately create this model, I surveyed additional hardwood forested sites considered to be of poorer forest condition so as to sample across a wide range of environmental condition. This enables the model to be more accurate and effective at calculating forest condition. Therefore, I went in search of hardwood forest sites on both public and private lands near and within heavily managed, fragmented, and human-disturbed or developed areas. Within Brown, Kewaunee, Shawano, and Oconto counties here in east-central Wisconsin, I found 27 sites that I surveyed, with the much-appreciated assistance of Joan Berkopec (the same wonderful volunteer who helped with the Wild Rivers Legacy Forest surveys and the Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey that I described in the two previous posts).

From May 26 until June 24, I observed 49 total species at these 27 additional sites, including the following species of interest:

Seven warblers:  Chestnut-sided, Common Yellowthroat, Mourning, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbird (in moderate numbers), Pine, and Yellow Warblers

Seven woodpeckers:  Downy, Hairy, Northern Flicker, Pileated, Red-bellied, Red-headed, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Woodpeckers

Four flycatchers:  Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-Pewee (in moderate numbers), Great Crested (in moderate numbers), and Least Flycatchers

Three thrushes:  American Robin (in moderate numbers), Veery, and Wood Thurshes

And one vireo:  Red-eyed Vireos (in large numbers)

Please feel free to look at the photographs that I took shown below:

Hardwood forest in Brown County

WI DNR sugar maple forest plot in Shawano County

While scouting out potential survey sites in Brown County, I heard then observed this spectacular Mourning Warbler pictured here

One of two Red-headed Woodpeckers that I found nesting along the pond at the Brown County Pet Exercise Park, which is full of sugar maple hardwoods

Red-headed Woodpecker

One of the two Red-headed Woodpeckers at their nesting cavity site

Thank you to professional photojournalist, Scott Giese, my boyfriend, for taking these additional photographs of me while I completed a bird survey in Brown County:

Me, Erin Gnass, obtaining a GPS coordinate at a bird survey site in Brown County

Me, Erin Gnass, recording data for a bird survey in Brown County

Me, Erin Gnass, trying to obtain a visual observation of a bird during a bird survey in Brown County

June 11-13, 2010: Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey by Erin Gnass

Every year since 1987, a large group of ornithologists have performed breeding bird surveys within the Nicolet National Forest (NNF; see the Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey: (http://www.uwgb.edu/birds/nnf/) in northeastern Wisconsin, now contributing to well over 40,000 records of birds consisting of over 200 total bird species. Whether you are an ornithologist by profession, a volunteer, a student, a back-yard birder, the state’s best expert, or a complete novice who has never seen a Canada Goose in your life, absolutely anyone can come and assist in the survey! Luckily, I was able to be one of the group leaders and engage myself in the survey for the very first time. Having heard about how much fun and exciting it is to participate in such a wonderful annual event, I was not disappointed in the slightest!

On the first day of the survey, I led a small team birders consisting of a young couple and another woman to pine and hardwood forests and a few beautiful bogs. Although the sites were not as biodiversity rich as other sites within the Nicolet National Forest, we were able to observe many interesting but “usual suspect” birds, such as the Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Robin, Brown Creeper, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-throated Green Warbler, Alder Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and many others. After this first morning of surveys, a large group of us, including (some of my favorite ecologist/biologist friends) UWGB undergraduate student, Aaron Groves, former UWGB Environmental Science & Policy graduate student, Kathryn Corio, Ron Eichhorn (who helped the Nature Conservancy and me with the WRLF project), and a few others went out to a bog near the NNF to look for interesting plants and birds. A few of us chased down a Palm Warbler while others observed uncommon plant species. Please see the photographs that I took down at the bottom of this posting. Thank you to all of the botanists in this group who showed me these beautiful plants.

On the second day, graduate student, Nick Walton, joined our group and helped to lead the surveys.  Near the end of one of the last surveys of the day, we heard a nearby soft chickadee-call where we discovered two Boreal Chickadees—the highlight of my entire summer. Not only did these individuals continue singing throughout the remainder survey, they flew low in the trees only ten meters away from us for quite a few minutes. Not many people have the opportunity to view this species in particular because they are considered an uncommon, northern U.S./Canada dwelling species. Thus, when we shared the news with other birders upon returning to the field houses, everyone expressed their surprise and excitement to us. What a thrilling day it was.

I look forward to next summer’s bird surveys at the Nicolet National Forest.

My photographs:

Me, Erin Gnass, leading one of a few bird surveys in a bog within the Nicolet National Forest

One of a few beautiful bogs that we surveyed.

After the first day of surveys, a small group and I went in search of plants and birds around the bog pictured here.

UWGB undergraduate, Aaron Groves, bird watching at the bog.

Ron Eichhorn and Aaron Groves trying to identify a plant.

Aaron Groves, and his mother, former UWGB Environmental Science & Policy graduate student, Kathryn Corio

A stunningly gorgeous carnivorous pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea)

Another carnivorous plant, the sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)

Aaron Groves and I found a previously made teepee-like structure on a hill leading down to the bog.

May 30 to June 5, 2010: Wild Rivers Legacy Forest by Erin Gnass

One of the many exciting bird research projects that I helped to investigate this summer was with the Nature Conservancy (TNC) in the Wild Rivers Legacy Forest (WRLF) north of Armstrong Creek in northern Wisconsin. With a field crew of eight people, many of us living in one field house, we not only gathered very useful bird survey data for TNC and my graduate thesis project, but we were also fortunate enough to listen to and observe many unique and beautiful bird species. Every afternoon or evening, we met as a group to decide how to break apart all of the required bird survey sites within the forest. Some of us went out in pairs while others surveyed independently to perform as many bird point counts as possible between the half hour prior to dawn until 9:30 AM (the short window of time that breeding birds are allowed to be surveyed). Depending on the terrain, distance between points (via car or on foot), and weather, many pairs or individuals performed as few as 5-6 surveys to as many as 12 in a morning! Therefore, we finished all 200 bird survey sites in the WRLF and the 23 additional sites of poor ecological forest condition in one week’s time!

For some of the bird sighting highlights of this week during the first week of June, we viewed 73 total species within the WRLF including:

16 warblers:  American Redstart, Black-and-white, Blackburnian (in large numbers), Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green (in large numbers), Canada, Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Mourning (in large numbers), Myrtle (the official name of the eastern population of the Yellow-rumped Warbler), Nashville, Northern Parula, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbird (in large numbers), and Tennessee Warblers

Six flycatchers:  Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-Pewee (in large numbers), Great Crested, Least (in large numbers), and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers

Six woodpeckers:  in comparison to last year’s data, we observed many more woodpecker individuals:  Downy, Hairy, Northern Flicker, Pileated, Red-bellied, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (in large numbers) Woodpeckers

Five thrushes:  American Robin (in large numbers), Hermit Thrush (in large numbers), Swainson’s, Veery, and Wood Thrushes

Four birds of prey:  Broad-winged Hawk, American Kestrel, Barred Owl, and Red-shouldered Hawk

Two vireos:  Red-eyed (in large numbers) and Blue-headed Vireos

And several other birds of interest included:  Black-billed Cuckoo, Black-capped Chickadee (in large numbers), Blue Jay (in large numbers), Brown Creeper, Common Raven, Chimney Swift, Evening Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Purple Finch, Rose-breasted Grosbeak (in large numbers), Red-breasted Nuthatch, Scarlet Tanager (in large numbers), White-breasted Nuthatch, White-throated Sparrow (in large numbers), Winter Wren, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

In comparison to the 200 sites of the WRLF, we only observed 47 total species within the sites of poor ecological forest condition, including many of those observed within the WRLF. In these additional sites, however, we also observed the Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Meadowlark, Golden-winged Warbler, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Yellow-throated Vireo, which were not observed during point counts in the WRLF.

For fun in the afternoons, we would gather for lunch at a nearby lake, such as Savage Lake, and enjoy the Black Terns, Sandhill Cranes, and Common Loons, which foraged within a few hundred meters of us. Other days we searched for different bird species (e.g. Bobolink) and other walks of life, such as dozens of dragonfly species, as expertly identified by Ron and Joan. We ran into several deer and quite a few black bears, including one close call during a survey that I was conducting by myself. Around minute three of one ten-minute bird point count survey that I was doing, a large black bear peered through thick brush about 25 meters away from me. After shooing it away from me, it still remained close, only about 200 meters away. Upon completing the bird survey and heading back to my car, it stood on its back legs and kept a close watch over me! Thankfully, it continued to forage and stay clear of me.

In one short week’s time, our dedicated and tireless field crew performed many surveys, which provided this study with incredibly useful data that will contribute towards a vastly important conservation project for the future. Luckily, I had some of the most fun that I have ever had working on a bird field crew and am grateful to be a part of this project. Thank you to all of those expert birders on this crew who helped me to become a better birder!

Please take a look at some of the photographs that I took during this week.

TNC's Nick Miller and John Wagner

Lunch break

Dragonfly emerging

TNC John Wagner and volunteer Joan Berkopec with the field crew dog, Pogo

Sandhill Crane foraging along the muddy edge of a lake

Forest road leading to a few of the last bird surveys that I performed just north of Goodman, WI

Nature Conservancy Bird Survey: May 26, 2010 by Erin Gnass

Because I have been in the process of preparing for my graduate thesis field work this summer, I have not had a chance to perform any additional bird surveys at Point au Sable. I will be heading to the northern hardwood forests of Wisconsin on Saturday to assist in performing over two-hundred bird surveys with the Nature Conservancy (TNC) for my thesis research. For my thesis project, I am developing a probability-based ecological indicator model for over 65,000 acres of forested land that is managed by TNC, the state of Wisconsin, and timber investment management organizations in the Wild Rivers Legacy Forest (WRLF). Based on an environmental gradient (ranging from degraded to pristine forest conditions), this ecological indicator will utilize the presence and absence of assemblages of bird species to indicate the ecological condition and conservation health of the forested lands of the WRLF. This indication of ecological condition will provide timber managers within the WRLF assistance in monitoring and managing these forests in a sustainable manner for both humans and wildlife.

In preparation for the model, TNC surveyed sites in the northern hardwoods of Wisconsin for forest bird species in the summer of 2009. This summer, I will be fortunate enough to join the team of ornithologists and survey the same sites as well as others, starting this Sunday. Additionally, in order to survey sites across the entire environmental gradient, my graduate advisor, Dr. Bob Howe, and I are surveying additional areas of varying forest condition including fragmented, isolated, and/or human-used areas in the Brown County area in order to most appropriately create this ecological indicator model. Therefore, we started these additional surveys yesterday morning in areas including and surrounding Brown County. All of this data will then ultimately contribute towards the conservation, protection, and sustainable use of northern Wisconsin hardwood forests.

Yesterday, we went to the managed forests of the Reforestation Camp in Suamico, Wisconsin and found 31 total bird species, including many species of particular interest:  Mourning Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Pileated Woodpecker, Scarlet Tanager, Veery, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. We also found American Crow, American Goldfinch, American Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Brown-headed Cowbird, Blue Jay, Canada Goose, Common Yellowthroat Warbler, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Gray Catbird, Hairy Woodpecker, House Wren, Indigo Bunting, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Ovenbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-eyed Vireo, Red-winged Blackbird, Sandhill Crane, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Wild Turkey.

Although I will be in northern Wisconsin for the next few weeks, I will provide a few reports about my thesis work and  the annual Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey (June 11-13) when I return to Green Bay. Then, once I am back from field work, I will survey Point au Sable again and provide weekly updates. So please stay tuned!