Wetland ecology at Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology – Day 11

Experimental wetland mesocosms at the “farm” lab of Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology.

Students learning about ongoing research projects that utilize small pond mesocosms to assess the impacts of pesticides on aquatic ecosystems.

Wetland Development and Wetland-Environment Feedbacks.  We began the last week of the course with a look at wetland development, focusing primarily on peatlands because they leave a record of their own development in the form of waterlogged peat.  We touched on some historical context (e.g., the old ideas of Clements and Gleason regarding ecological succession), and then focused on how autogenic (i.e., internal) and allogenic (i.e., external) factors influence wetland development.  We then spent some time examining how wetlands interact with the broader earth system, be it through local and watershed-scale connections (e.g., dissolved organic carbon export) or through the role of wetlands in global biogeochemical cycles (e.g., carbon and nitrogen cycling).  We also examined these interactions in the context of global-change concerns, by exploring the question of how the considerable pool of carbon stored in peatlands may respond to climate changes of the coming centuries.  This is an area of much active research, and considerable uncertainty regarding whether peatlands will be a positive or negative feedback to climate change still exists.

One of goals of the pesticide research is to determine the synergistic effect of multiple pesticides on amphibian populations. Since thousands of pesticides are commonly used, oftentimes aquatic ecosystems are exposed to a wide variety of chemicals. Understanding the interactive effects of these chemicals on individuals and populations is an active area of research.

Experimental Approaches to Wetland Ecology.  After lunch and a much-needed thunderstorm we drove out to the “farm” lab, where Rick Relyea’s research group is conducting some fantastic experimental work using small wetland mesocosms.  The questions they are investigating range from basic ecology (e.g., competition dynamics, predator-prey relationships, sexual selection, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning) to more applied themes focused on understanding the effects of pesticides on amphibian populations.  The undergraduates, graduate students, and post-docs did a fantastic job explaining the details and implications of their work to the students.  I learned a great deal and I’m sure the students did too.

“If you build it, they will come.” A two-year old created wetland, dominated by the floating leaved macrophyte Brasenia schreberi (water-shield).

Constructed Wetlands.  We then headed to a local landowner’s property to observe a series of constructed wetlands.  The wetlands were created as part of the National Resource Conservation Service’s Wetland Reserve Program, which is a voluntary program that provides landowners with financial support for wetland restoration and creation efforts.  Some of the wetlands we observed are kept wet all year round, while others are drained each spring so that Japanese millet can be grown.  The visit provided a nice example of wetland conservation on privately owned land.

The students are putting the final touches on their plant collections this evening, and were busily keying out their specimens during the brief afternoon thunderstorm.  I’m looking forward to examining all their Carex species tomorrow night to check their identifications – it may be a long night for me!  Tomorrow we are off to Titus Bog…

Ready to create some wetlands!

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PLE Day 11, a set on Flickr.

-rkb-

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Posted on May 29, 2012, in Fieldwork, Wetland Ecology & Management (PLE) and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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