The Pymatuning wetlanders learned about the role of wetlands in the broader earth system this morning, with a focus on biogeochemical cycles and climate change. This was followed by a quick overview of federal laws that protect wetlands, particularly the history and controversy surrounding the Clean Water Act.
We headed to Hartstown Swamp in the late morning, where the students were tasked with conducting an actual wetland delineation along a transect from the swamp to the upland. They received little to no help from me, and had to self organize, determine what data to collect, and then carry it out. They did a fantastic job, and integrating and applying their knowledge of wetland plants and soils. They have come a long way; in fact, just a couple weeks ago most of them struggled to provide a definition for the term “wetland.” Their data from along the transect was used to construct the diagram below, and we will discuss these results in the morning.
The Pymatuning wetlanders started off the morning by exploring the wetlands along the edge of Pymatuning Lake via canoe. We examined the hydrophobic leaves of American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) and compared it to the white water lily (Nymphaea odorata). We also added a number of submerged aquatic plants to our “must-know” plant list, including bladderwort (Utricularia sp.), hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum), waterweed (Elodea canadensis), and two invasive plants, curly leaved pondweed (Potamogeton crispus )and Eurasian milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum). We also found all three common floating plants growing in association: lesser duckweed (Lemna minor), greater duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza), and the smallest flowering plant in the world, waterfall (Wolffia sp.). Botanizing was a pleasant and fun way to start the day.
We spend a short time in the classroom finishing up our discussion of wetland biogeochemistry, by taking a close look at phosphorus cycling in wetlands. We then discussed intrinsic and environmental controls on decomposition and production, and the implications for nutrient cycling. To reinforce their newly acquired knowledge of wetland biogeochemistry, the students will complete an assignment based on a laboratory experiment we conducted as part of a semester-long course in wetland ecology at Lehigh University (“smelling your way down the redox ladder”).
We then went to the spillway for lunch, where the students were amazed and disgusted at the density of bread-fed carp. The continual influx of bread is breathtaking. And not just bread, I have watched the carp eat a tray of cupcakes, waffles, and sandwiches. And this is all in the few minutes that I have spent there each year. It is truly unbelievable that this sort of thing is happening in 2015, given our knowledge of the ecological problems that it creates, particularly with respect to phosphorus loading. Our discussion of phosphorus limitation in the morning was on our minds as we watched the carp. Dr. Andy Turner from Clarion University has a nice description of the craziness on his blog. Linesville must make a tremendous amount of money selling moldy bread to tourists. This year I noticed that they are even selling shirts. “Carpe feed’m”….really?…..
After lunch we headed to Hartstown Swamp, where we carefully avoided poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) while we explored the edge of the swamp and added a number of swamp plants to our “must-know” list. None of the students actually made the mistake of collecting poison sumac, although there were a few moments of of panic when collections of green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) came out of bags back in the lab. I did nothing to promote these brief moments of panic of course 🙂 As week one comes to an end, we have identified nearly 50 wetlands plants. I’m looking forward to next week.
A few students have started using twitter to share photos from our fieldwork using the hashtag #PLEwetlands. These will also be retweeted through @LehighEcology and some will be embedded into these daily summaries.
Morning lecture was focused on formal wetland classification systems, with a focus on those used in North America. Admittedly, formal wetland classification schemes are not that exciting, but everyone must have had enough coffee, or ate enough of made-to-order eggs at breakfast, to make it through. After an overview of Cowardin et al. classification system (used by the Fish and Wildlife Service), we took a much-needed walk to some wetlands right outside the classroom. There the students applied their knowledge by fully classifying two wetland areas. We were lucky enough to observe some red-winged blackbird chicks (Agelaius phoeniceus), although mom and dad were not at all pleased that we were nearby.
After a overview of wetland hydrology, we got our waders from the PLE stockroom and headed to Morgan Swamp in Ohio. There, Karen Adair gave us an overview of the preserve and the mission of the Nature Conservancy, and also provided some advice for students interested in conservation and environmental science careers. We then took a hike through a really spectacular mosaic of swamp and mesic forest, dominated by American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). I had never done this hike before and it was very much worth it; a few of the beech trees were as large as some of the old growth trees I have seen. We also observed a large eastern ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) along the trail.
We then put on waders and entered the preserve from another location, where we examined a 14-year old mitigation wetland, a series of vernal pools, and a large marsh and shrub-swamp. Crossing the mitigation wetland proved to be challenging, and 7 out of 8 of us went deeper than our waders were designed for. Nothing says wetland ecology like a student hollering, “I’m taking on water!” while other students snap pictures. We observed a number of wetland plants, and added a few to the “must-know” list including Sphagnum, reed-canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea), moneywort or creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia), common spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris) and three-way sedge (Dulichium arundinaceum).
I’m looking forward to installing a few wells and camera traps tomorrow at Pymatuning Creek Marsh, and beginning our plant collections.
The Pymatuning wetlanders wrapped up two weeks of the wetland ecology course today by first examining swamps and riparian wetlands and then heading out to Pymatuning Creek Marsh to collect the wells and data loggers that we installed last week. The collection of the wells proved difficult, but the students were creative and managed to recover them all.
We then visited Dr. Rick Relyea’s research laboratory where his research team told us about the interesting experimental work they are doing in ecotoxicology, community ecology, and behavioral ecology. The students had many questions, and it was nice to be able to give them direct exposure to this sort of cutting-edge research.
We returned to lab and spent the afternoon identifying and tallying our macroinvertebrate samples. We found many new macroinvertebrate types this year, and I am looking forward to seeing the results.
This morning the Pymatuning wetlanders finished up with wetland biogeochemistry and discussed environmental controls on production and decomposition in wetlands. We then went to nearby Hartstown Swamp to learn more plant species in anticipation of Monday’s data collection in the swamp. We also walked to nearby pond to highlight the differences between narrow-leaved cattail (Typha angustifolia, an invasive) and common cattail (Typha latifolia, a native). Although the leaves are generally wider in the native species, there is overlap between the two; therefore, one of the best ways to tell them apart is by looking at the distribution of the male and female flowers on the shoots. In common cattail the male flowers and female flowers are continuos along the stem, or separated by less about half a centimeter of bare stem. In narrow-leaved cattail there is a distinct gap, typically 2-12 cm long, between the two flower types where there is only bare stem. Just to make field identification more fun, there are also hybrids between the two species that are intermediate in both leaf characteristics and the width of the gap between the two flower types (Typha x glauca).
The students then spent the rest of the afternoon pressing their plant collections, working on a wetland hydrology problem set, beginning a biogeochemistry assignment, and starting to prepare for the midterm which is on Wednesday.
Below is a video highlighting some of the fun that we had this week! (a bit low-fi, but the upload speed is very slow here. I’ll replace with a better one after the course is completed)
Day 2 of wetland ecology at Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology (PLE)
After a pancake breakfast at PLE, we discussed wetland classification schemes and the students participated in the “classification challenge,” where groups competed against each other to provide the most correct and detailed classification of two nearby wetlands (right outside the classroom adjacent to Lake Pymatuning) using the Cowardin et al. classification system. Unfortunately no clear winning group emerged, but the students certainly now understand the difference between persistent and non-persistent emergents!
We then jumped headfirst into wetland hydrology. Water sources, hydroperiods, hydrodynamics, water budgets, evapotranspiration, Darcy’s law…. Once all of our brains were full, we loaded up into the van and headed to Morgan Swamp Preserve in Ohio, where we had lunch, followed by a nice hike to a wetland overlook to observe the effects that beavers can have on wetland hydrology. A beaver dam at the site has recently collapsed, and the area upstream has become much drier and mostly consists of an open mud flat with scattered spatterdock (Nuphar advena) still trying to hang on. I expect it will look quite different by the end of the summer.
We then put on waders (or not) and entered the swamp from another location, where we examined a large 14-year old mitigation wetland, a series of vernal pools, and a large marsh and shrub-swamp. The hike back out of the swamp turned into a bit of an adventure, when the instructor went a mile in the wrong direction led the students to one final wetland before borrowing a student’s smartphone leading the students directly back to the van.
Some student tweets:
“A wetland is an ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes and forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to exhibit adaptations to tolerate flooding.” (Keddy, 2010)
Nine students hailing from five Pennsylvania schools – Clarion University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, Slippery Rock University, and Lehigh University – all began a journey today to become “wetlanders.” The course is a three-week, field-intensive investigation of wetland ecology offered at the University of Pittsburgh’s Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology (PLE), located on the shore of Pymatuning Reservoir in western Pennsylvania. In this course, we cover the content of a semester-long course in fifteen days… which represents about a week’s worth of material each day. The students (and instructor) are physically and mentally immersed in these unique and valuable ecosystems for the duration of the course. Strap on your waders and prepare to get wet!
This morning we began by visiting some local wetlands and adjacent uplands, and discussing the defining characteristics of wetlands. We compared soil and vegetation along a wetland-upland gradient, observed and discussed gas bubbles rising from wetland soils, and talked about anaerobic conditions and how rooted plants deal with the challenges of these environments. We then stopped for lunch at the (in)famous Linesville spillway, and observed the continual influx of phosphorus into the lake (in the form of hand-tossed stale bread). We spent the afternoon discussing wetland definitions, the various names used for wetlands (e.g., marshes, swamps, peatlands) including some particularly strange/confusing ones (e.g., reed swamp, prairie, billabong), and wetland ecosystem services. The students then gained some familiarity with the FWS wetland mapper in preparation for tomorrow’s discussion of wetland classification systems. I’m looking forward to visiting Morgan Swamp preserve tomorrow! A few student tweets from the first day: