Today began a three-week, field-intensive course in wetland ecology at Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology. It is my fourth year teaching this course and it is still a highlight of my year. This year’s class seems to be a really great and engaged group of upperclass undergraduates, with a range of expertise spanning environmental geology, environmental biology, ecology and evolution, and biochemistry. I look forward to getting to know them all over the next few weeks.
Substantial rain over the past few days occurred here in the Pymatuning region, with lots of localized flooding. Today was also unusually cold for this time of year. So we got off to a wet and cold start, but it didn’t slow us down. Needless to say, both the wetlands and the uplands on our tour of local sites this morning were quite wet! Wetland “hydrology” was everywhere! We discussed the definition of a wetland and how to identify them. The unusually wet conditions highlighted the need to look at more than just the present hydrology, and to examine the longer-term indicators of wetland conditions: the vegetation and soils. We also observed aerenchyma tissue in the stem and rhizome of spatterdock, discussed the likely composition of gas bubbles rising out of a marsh soil, speculated on the causes of tree mortality in a recently flooded area, and examined wetland and upland soil characteristics. And of course we identified a few plants…most importantly poison ivy. As I mentioned to the students, poison ivy will not be on the “must-know” plant list for the exams, but their identification skills will instead be tested in more “real-world” ways.
In the classroom we had an overview of wetland definitions, wetland types, and the ecosystem services that wetlands provide humanity. Later in the afternoon, the students utilized the FWS wetland mapper to examine the classification and description of the wetlands we visited earlier in the day.
Tomorrow we head to Morgan Swamp… where we are guaranteed to get wet!
Today was wetland delineation day for the Pymatuning wetlanders. After discussing the “plant math” of wetland delineation, as well as some of the basics of hydric soils and common hydrological indicators of wetland hydrology, Brian Pilarcik of the Crawford County Conservation District led the class in a demonstration of the wetland delineation procedure. We assessed the three wetland indicators (i.e., vegetation, hydrology, and soils) along a gradient from an upland to a shrub-scrub wetland and determined the position of the regulatory boundary of the wetland. The students got some practice using Munsel soil color books, applied their knowledge of wetland vegetation, and got very good at digging soil pits.
We also spent some time discussing peatland paleoenvironmental archives in preparation for our trip to Titus Bog tomorrow. Everyone is hoping to find a bog body…