Success! Michelle Spicer (Lehigh MS student) has successfully obtained funding for her forest research using the relatively new method of crowdfunding (see previous post). Admittedly, I had some doubts about the crowdfunding model when I first heard about it, particularly how successful it would be at engaging the public in science research. I also wondered how much of the funding for these projects was typically obtained from the general public versus immediate friends and family of the investigator. However, Michelle’s research topic seemed to be well suited to crowdfunding so I was excited when she decided to give it a try. She ended up being more successful than I would have guessed.
Michelle exceeded her funding goal, and was able to attract contributors from outside of her immediate network of family and friends. Her proposal was funded by 23 individuals, and although 10 of these individuals were family and close friends, this group of people only provided about 20% of the total funds. About 80% of the funds were from people that were outside of her immediate network, and these were nearly all people that she had never personally met; i.e., friends of family, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, Lehigh University alumni, and people that found her proposal through SciFund, Rockethub, and their networks. The median contribution was $25, although contributions ranged from $10 to $1000. Most surprising to me was that the two largest contributions ($500 and $1000) were from people that she had never met.
It is also worth noting that through this process, Michelle’s SciFund proposal was shared extensively on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets – and therefore a lot of people learned about her project and the Lehigh Experimental Forest. Clearly the process of engaging the public and alumni in this project has only just begun, and Michelle has already had some nice correspondence with some of her funders. Michelle plans to post updates of her research progress on her blog, In the Forgotten Forest, where anyone interested may post comments, suggestions, and questions as her research progresses. A big thanks to all the funders, and to all of the people that “shared”, “liked”, and “tweeted” Michelle’s proposal.
Last year’s October snowstorm damaged the red maples, cucumber magnolias, and other small trees in the Lehigh Experimental Forest. However, Hurricane Sandy was a very different beast. The high winds generally left the small, understory trees alone, but took down some of the biggest, tallest trees in the forest. The ecology class surveyed the damage in their plots this afternoon. Several large tulip poplars, the tallest white pine, a norway spruce, and a black oak were all tipped over by the high winds. All of these were trees were among the original those originally planted in 1915. When these large trees fell, they took down several others including some black birches and black oaks, and a few understory trees like sassafras and red maple. Next year’s class will be able to observe and document the changes in these newly created canopy gaps.
And there is still time to help Michelle Spicer crowdfund her research on this fantastic forest! Go here to help or spread the word!
Addendum: Stumbled into this interesting article exploring what makes some trees susceptible to falling during storms.
“And if three whole people, why not — four? And if four whole people, why not–more, and more, and more….” – Snoopy and the Peanuts
There has been much recent discussion on the role of crowdfunding in scientific research (for example, see here and here). Crowdfunding is the public funding of projects or ideas of organizations or individuals, typically via the internet. Described as “sort of a combination of venture capitalism and social networking” by the bloggers at Jabberwocky Ecology, several organizations have emerged to support this funding model for the scientific community (e.g., Petridish, #SciFund Challenge). What role will crowdfunding play in science research funding? How important will this funding source be in the future? Will it shape the way some science is done? Will it lead to greater interaction between scientists and non-scientists? The verdict is still out on these and other questions, but at a minimum it seems like a fun way to potentially fund small projects and engage the public in scientific research. So…..a student in our research group has decided to give it a try….
Michelle Spicer, a graduate student in earth and environmental science at Lehigh University, is currently part of the third round of the #SciFund Challenge. Her proposed research is focused on understanding the ecological history of the Lehigh Experimental Forest, a plot of land overlooking Lehigh University that was systematically planted with various tree species as a forestry experiment back in 1915 (see this previous post for details). However, the experiment was forgotten about by the 1950s and Michelle hopes to assess the outcome today… a century after it was planted. In particular, she hopes to conduct a thorough survey of the present-day vegetation, compare the present-day vegetation with what was originally planted, and determine the history of forest changes using tree rings and aerial photographs. Her video proposal is embedded below…if you like it, head on over to Rockethub to view the rest of the details and, if you like, contribute to its success! Even $1 or $5 contributions add up, and as a funder she will keep you informed of her research activities and results as they emerge.
Snoopy and the Peanuts images from “Snoopy! The Musical“
Would it be too cold for salamanders? After freezing temperatures on Friday night, my daughter and I took a brisk Saturday-afternoon hike through the Lehigh Experimental Forest. Our objective was to determine whether any red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) were under the nearly 100 coverboards that Michelle Spicer (Lehigh graduate student) and I had put out in preparation for this week’s Ecology (EES-152) lab.
We didn’t find any salamanders under the coverboards. Not a single one. However, after nearly an hour of searching (my assistant insisted that we not give up), we managed to recover a sluggish salamander from deep under a large rock. Salamanders were very abundant a couple weeks ago, but the sudden cold temperatures had clearly sent them digging deep in the soil, which is where they survive the winter. If only the cold snap had waited a few more days. Michelle and I had to quickly develop a backup plan for Monday’s lab.
However, we got lucky. Sunday was warm, and temperatures never dropped below the upper 50s during the night. Rain on monday morning and afternoon probably helped a bit too, and as far as I could tell, the students didn’t mind getting wet. Collectively, they counted 84 red-backed salamanders in approximately 2200 square meters of forest (almost 23,700 square feet). And that is a minimum estimate….we certainly missed some. So, scaling up, our estimate of red-backed salamander density, based on this single sampling effort a few days after the first freeze, was about 382 per hectare (or ~155 per acre). Therefore, there are likely well over 1000 red-backed salamanders in the Lehigh Experimental Forest. The numbers might seem surprising, but our estimate is lower than other estimates from eastern North America forests, where densities greater than 1000 individuals per acre have been observed. I suspect that if we had sampled a few weeks ago, our estimate would be much higher; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more salamanders in the experimental forest than there are students at Lehigh University.
In addition to salamanders, the students collected information on the density of earthworms, using the liquid extraction technique. They will use the combined dataset, along with some additional observations and measurements, to test whether salamander and earthworm abundance differed between areas of the forest with deciduous (tulip poplar and sugar maple) and conifer (white pine) canopies. How might the type of canopy influence the abundance of earthworms? How might it influence the abundance of salamanders? Or perhaps the forest vegetation doesn’t matter at all? Hypotheses?
Below are a few pictures and video clips of the fun….