Maine Fieldwork Part 2: The Bog | PalEON Project

A nice summary of our recent field work adventure in Maine is now up at the PalEON blog:

Maine Fieldwork Part 2: The Bog | PalEON Project.

 

It includes a fun video, which is embedded below as well…

 

Tropical testate amoebae as hydrological indicators? (reblog)

Originally posted on From inside the shell:

Sampling testate amoebae in a tropical peatland. A recent paper in Microbial Ecology by Swindles et al. suggests that testate amoebae have potential as hydrological indicators in tropical peatlands.

Sampling testate amoebae in a tropical peatland. A recent paper in Microbial Ecology by Swindles et al. suggests that testate amoebae have good potential as hydrological indicators in tropical peatlands.

Testate amoebae have been successfully used as indicators of past changes in peatland hydrology, particularly ombrotrophic (i.e., nutrients derived exclusively from precipitation) peatlands of north-temperate and boreal regions.  Over the past couple decades, many ecological studies of testate amoebae have been performed in these northern bogs, allowing empirical relationships between community composition and surface moisture to be described. Because the shells of testate amoebae preserve well in the acidic and anaerobic environment of bogs, these modern relationships have been used to infer past changes in the relative wetness of the bog surface from the composition of subfossil communities.  Much recent work has focused on the validation and interpretation of testate amoeba paleohydrological records from bogs, and their application to pressing global change questions.

Surveying along a transect across the peatland. Surveying along…

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Camera traps, June 2014

Velvet-covered antlers in the Lehigh Experimental Forest.

Velvet-covered antlers in the Lehigh Experimental Forest.

More data from the Lehigh Experimental Forest camera traps. Our complete list of “trapped” species since October now includes:

  • Buteo jamaicensis (Red-tailed hawk)
  • Canis lupus familiaris (Domestic dog)
  • Felis catus (Domestic cat)
  • Homo sapiens (Human)
  • Marmota monax (groundhog)
  • Meleagris gallopavo (wild turkey)
  • Odocoileus virginianus (White-tailed deer)
  • Procyon lotor (Raccoon)
  • Sciurus carolinensis (Gray squirrel)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus (Eastern cottontail)
  • Tamias striatus (Eastern chipmunk)
  • Turdus migratorius (American Robin)
  • Vulpes vulpes (Red fox)

A few highlights from the two video cameras (wild turkey at the end!):

 

Wine from the forest?

Forest on South Mountain, eastern PA.

Spring in a forest on South Mountain, eastern PA. Black birch (Betula lenta), sometimes referred to as sweet birch, is in the foreground.

The forests of eastern Pennsylvania are shades of brilliant green in the early spring, as the young leaves of deciduous trees emerge and begin the annual pulse of photosynthesis.  Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), trout lily (Erythronium americium), spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), and other wildflowers add sprinkles of color to the ground, and the smell of the damp soil hints at the forest’s deep history.  The spring forest is alive and bursting with potential, and a walk through its lightly shaded understory can rekindle excitement that had unknowingly diminished during the long winter.   If only you could bottle the experience of a spring hike and save it up for later in the year.

Perhaps you can? Sort of. While searching online for something unrelated, I stumbled into an old-time recipe for oak-leaf wine.  I had never heard of using tree leaves in wine, but they have been used as a flavoring similar to many flower-petal wines (e.g., dandelion wine). In fact, there are at least two of these oak-leaf wine recipes, one that uses young spring oak leaves and another that uses mature summer oak leaves.  And they apparently result in wines that differ in flavor. Interestingly, beech leaves (in the same family as the oaks, Fagaceae) have also been used in wine (see here), as well as to flavor gin (beech tree noyau).

One month after fermentation started, the Beech - sugar maple wine is on the left and the oak - black birch wine is on the right.

One month after fermentation started, the beech – sugar maple wine is on the left and the oak – black birch wine is on the right.

Every forest type offers unique sensory experiences, so I thought it might be fun to attempt a few batches of wine that reflect the character of particular forest communities. I thought I’d start with two forest types common in eastern Pennsylvania, beech-maple and oak-black birch.  Beech-maple forests are particularly nice in spring, and common in northeastern Pennsylvania. Oak-black birch forests are abundant in the Lehigh Valley region, particularly on South Mountain.  Black birch twigs make a delicious, wintergreen-flavored tea that I am quite fond of, and I can easily imagine it contributing to an interesting wine. Sure, these wines won’t likely capture the experience of spring hike; in fact, it is tough for me to imagine what they will taste like and perhaps they will turn out terrible. However, I figured it would be a fun little weekend project, and it was certainly a good excuse to take a few extra hikes with my daughter this past spring. I document what I did below, and I’d appreciate comments or suggestions from anyone with experience making oak or beech leaf wine.

Disclaimer and note of caution: Ingesting any wild plant is dangerous.  Proper identification is critical, and even if your identification is correct you are still taking personal risk because many plant compounds have not been thoroughly studied.  One of the recipes below uses black birch, which contains methyl salicylate. Methyl salicylate metabolizes into salicylic acid (aspirin). Although the amount of methyl salicylate in the recipe is very low (likely the equivalent of about 1/4 to 1/2 tablet per bottle), aspirin does interact with other medicines and high doses of aspirin are dangerous particularly when combined with alcohol. Also, alcohol itself is a poison, and you must be over 21 years old in the United States to legally ingest it.

American Beech and Sugar Maple Wine

Ingredients

Young american beech leaves, cleaned and ready for the wine.

Young american beech leaves, cleaned and ready for the wine.

  •  1 gallon fresh, young american beech (Fagus grandifolia) leaves
  • 32 ounces pure maple syrup
  • 0.75 cups sugar
  • 0.5 cups chopped, golden raisins
  • 0.75 tsp acid blend
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 0.5 tsp yeast energizer
  • 0.5 tsp Yeast (Lavin EC-1118)
  • Campden tablet(s)
American beech leaves after additional of boiling water.

American beech leaves after addition of boiling water.

What I did

1) Washed beech leaves and carefully removed any stow-away insects. There were quite a few.

2) Boiled one gallon of water. Added water to beech leaves in a food-grade plastic bucket (primary fermentation pail). Covered with a towel and allowed it to sit for 24hours.

3) Strained leaves and emptied leaf-infused water into a large, stainless steel pot. Added zest and juice of orange and lemon (avoided the bitter pith) and brought the mixture to a boil. Simmered for 20 minutes.

4) Added maple sugar and table sugar while stirring to dissolve.  Added 0.75 cups of sugar, which was sufficient to bring the hydrometer reading to 1.095.  This should correspond to approximately 14% alcohol if it ferments dry. You could add more or less sugar (or use more maple syrup and skip the sugar).

5) Added golden raisins, acid blend, 0.5 tsp yeast nutrient, and 0.25 yeast energizer. The pH of the mixture was 3.4.

6) Stirred the mixture well to introduce as much oxygen as possible, and then poured it into a clean, sanitized, food-grade bucket (2-3 gallon) and allowed it to cool to room temperature.

7) Pitched yeast according to yeast instructions. I used Lavin EC-1118 yeast, as this is a very robust and reliable strain. Covered the bucket with a towel, which was secured around the top of the bucket with a rope.

Beech-maple wine in secondary fermentation.

Beech-maple wine in secondary fermentation.

8) Signs of fermentation (i.e., bubbles, foam) were present within 12 hours.  I stirred the mixture several times a day for the first three days of active fermentation.

9) After 3-4 days, I added the additional yeast nutrient and energizer.

10) When the specific gravity was near 1.000, I transfered the mixture into a one-gallon carboy, topped it off with a small amount of water, and put an air lock on the top.

11) When fermentation was complete (about 2-3 weeks, the specific gravity reached 0.988 in less than two weeks for me), I siphoned off the wine into a fresh, sanitized carboy, leaving the sediment behind. I added one crushed campden tablet (K-meta).

12)  I will allow it to age in an air-locked carboy for several months until it is clear, racking as needed to remove any sediment. Once it is clear and fully degassed of CO2 it will be bottled.   According to the available recipes for beech leaf wine it will likely need to age at least six months to a year.

Oak and Black Birch Wine

Oak-black birch wine in secondary fermentation, before the addition of five cups of black birch tea.

Oak-black birch wine in secondary fermentation, before the addition of five cups of black birch tea.

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon fresh, young oak leaves (Quercus spp.)
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 0.5 cups chopped, golden raisins
  • 0.25 tsp acid blend
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 0.5 tsp yeast energizer
  • Yeast (Lavin EC-1118)
  • 5 cups of black birch tea (~1 cup per bottle of finished wine)
  • Campden tablet(s)

What I did

1) Washed oak leaves and carefully removed any stow-away insects. I used chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) and a smaller amount of red oak (Quercus rubra).

2) Boiled one gallon of water. Added water to oak leaves in a food-grade plastic bucket (primary fermentation pail). Covered with a towel and allowed it to sit for 24 hours.

3) Strained leaves and emptied leaf-infused water into a large, stainless steel pot. Added zest and juice of orange and lemon (avoided the bitter pith) and brought the mixture to a boil. Simmered for 20 minutes.

4) Added sugar while stirring to dissolve. Of course, it would be better to use black birch syrup (i.e., syrup made from birch sap) but this is hard to find.  I added 5 cups of sugar, which was sufficient to bring the hydrometer reading to 1.120.  This should correspond to approximately 17% alcohol if it ferments dry. However, this will be diluted with the black birch tea and the final wine should be about 12% alcohol.

5) Added golden raisins, acid blend, 0.5 tsp yeast nutrient, and 0.25 yeast energizer. The pH of the mixture was 3.4.

6) Stirred the mixture well to introduce as much oxygen as possible, and then poured it into a clean, sanitized, food-grade bucket (2-3 gallon) and allowed it to cool to room temperature.

7) Pitched yeast according to yeast instructions. I used Lavin EC-1118 yeast, as this is a very robust and reliable strain. Covered the bucket with a towel, which was secured around the top of the bucket with a rope.

8) Signs of fermentation (i.e., bubbles, foam) were present within 12 hours.  I stirred the mixture several times a day for the first three days of active fermentation.

9) After 3-4 days, I added the additional yeast nutrient and energizer.

Making black birch tea.

Making black birch tea.

10) When the specific gravity reached 1.04, I made 5 cups of black birch tea.  I used fresh twigs, broken to fit into mason jars.  Boiled water, removed from heat, and then waited about 10 minutes before filling the twig-packed jars.  I then closed the jars and allowed them to sit for 24-36 hours.

11) I transferred the fermenting wine into a one-gallon carboy, and filled the remaining volume in the carboy with the black-birch tea (it took 4.5 cups, so I enjoyed a half-cup of tea). I place an air lock on the top of carboy.

11) When fermentation was complete (about 2-3 weeks, the specific gravity reached 0.988 in less than two weeks for me), I siphoned off the wine into a fresh, sanitized carboy, leaving the sediment behind. I added one crushed campden tablet (K-meta).

12)  I will allow it to age in an air-locked carboy for several months until it is clear, racking as needed to remove the sediment. Once it is clear and fully degassed of CO2 I will bottle it.   According to available recipes for oak-leaf wine it will likely need to age at least six months to a year.

 

Nine new wetland ecologists disperse to the world (PLE day 15)

When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and most interminable, and to the citizen, most dismal swamp.  I enter a swamp as a sacred place – a sanctum sanctorum. There is the strength, the marrow of Nature. – Henry David Thoreau

"Wetlanders" or "hummock hoppers," this was a great group of students. Artwork by M Stranix (direct link here).

Call them “wetlanders” or “hummock hoppers,” this was a great group of students. Artwork by M Stranix (direct link here).

The Pymatuning wetlanders demonstrated their mastery of wetland ecology this morning on the final exam.  This was a fantastic group of students, each bringing different perspectives and backgrounds to our discussions and explorations.  Every one of them worked extremely hard, was not afraid to get wet :), and respected and appreciated each other’s opinions and differences.  They learned a tremendous amount in a few weeks, and we collectively had a lot of fun along the way.

The experience was highly rewarding for me as well, as I learned a little bit more about wetlands, became a better naturalist, and tried a few new pedagogical things in the classroom (and in the field). And my life is richer for having known these individuals.  Teaching this course has consistently been the most fun and rewarding experience of my professional year.  And you certainly can’t beat spending three weeks at the Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology!

So long hummock hoppers! Hope your summer gets even more peaty……

……or swampy

………..…or marshy. :)

 

 

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