ERI Funded Projects: Hannah Stouter at the Huyck Preserve and Biological Field Station in Rensselaerville, NY!

This summer I was an Odum intern at the Huyck Preserve and Biological Field Station, a 2000 acre ecological preserve located in Rensselaerville, NY, about 45 minutes outside of Albany. I was one of four interns who worked with Dr. Sue Beatty, Professor emeritus of Geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder whose research focused on plant ecology and Dr. Anne Rhoads, a Vassar graduate from the class of ‘96 and the current director of the Preserve. With help from Anne and Sue, I developed a research question to investigate during my time there and helped high school students develop and answer their own environmental research questions.  

For my project I decided to research the effects of beech bark disease (BBD) on beech trees at the Huyck Preserve. BBD was introduced from Europe to Nova Scotia in the 1890s and since spread as far south as Tennessee and Virginia and as far west as Wisconsin. BBD disease is caused by a combination of the scale insect Crptococcus fagisuga, and an ascomycete fungi, Nectria sp. In my research, I wanted to quantify the percentage of healthy, diseased and dead trees on the preserve, map the distribution, abundance and health status of beech trees, determine the age structure and regeneration and ultimately I wanted to determine what forest types were going to be most vulnerable to loss of beech trees as a result of BBD. To do this, I set up eight plots in various forest types across the preserve and survayed all beech trees that were present. I ranked the level of disease of each tree and measured the diameter in order to determine age structure. I then surveyed all other woody species in the canopy and the understory to determine forest type and see what species (if any) were regenerating in areas with BBD. I found that the hemlock forest at the Huyck are most vulnerable to loss of beech trees. The mean BBD level was highest in hemlock forests, likely because increased humidity in hemlock forests shields beech trees from freeze and thaw cycles that would otherwise help to kill the scale insect. Moreover, hemlock wooly adelgid has not yet impacted the hemlock forests at the Huyck, however, given climate change and warming temperatures it is likely only a matter of time before the hemlock forests are impacted. Hemlock forests are also vulnerable as many canopy species have difficulty regenerating due to high soil acidity. 

Every Thursday throughout the summer the Huyck Preserve held a potluck followed by a lecture. The potluck provided a great way to get the know the community in Rensselaerville and the people I was working with at the Huyck better. The lecture afterwards became a really cool way to hear about the other research that was being conducted at the Huyck as well as learn about local environmental organizations. The lectures, many conversations about graduate school with Anne and Sue, and spending the summer doing research confirmed my desire to ultimately pursue a Ph. D in ecology/environmental science.  


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