Next Big Step – Identifying Oaks!

As I’ve previously mentioned, each year of this project, students have been able to figure out how to identify more and more species, especially juvenile individuals. The next genus I plan to attack is the oak family (the genus Quercus). There are 10 species of oaks in the College Woods, and while some are more common than others, it is still difficult to tell the species apart in juveniles.

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Vaccinium vs Gaylussacia

One of my major issues this summer has been fixing errors and figuring out unknowns in previous years’ data. I’m the first person that has looked at all of the data as a whole, and as each person that has worked on this project has entered their data in a slightly different way, it’s been a long and confusing job trying to put it all in the same format. As I mentioned in my last blog post, each year the students working on this project have figured out how to identify more and more of the most difficult plants. That means that part of my job has been trying to use the information we know now to try to go back and figure out the identity of plants that previous years’ students were stumped by.

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What Deer Browse Actually Looks Like

Considering I’ve been talking about what happens when deer eat too much in an area, I should probably show what this deer browse actually looks like! On an individual plant level, it looks like something has cut a stem clean off, almost as if by pruning shears or a weed eater. A deer will often eat a flower or young shoot whole. They’ll also rip off whole leaves; they don’t usually take one bite out of a leaf and then leave it. The picture below is of an Ampelopsis arborea individual (a native grape often called Peppervine) on campus that was definitely chomped by a deer. On trees and tall shrubs, you can often see a line where deer have reached as high as they can to browse on new shoots.

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Other Denizens of the College Woods

Part of what makes deer overpopulation such a problem is that the damage is not restricted to plant communities. The deer themselves suffer. The higher the population, the more likely diseases are to spread among the deer and the worse these diseases tend to be. The deer are also more likely to starve during the winter if they’ve eaten all of the perennial plants before the early spring growth starts up again. Even more important, by taking out the base of the food chain, over-browsing by deer removes habitat and food needed by other organisms. Once one animal species starts declining because of this, the other species that rely on the first animal for food start being affected as well. If this happens with enough species, it will begin to change the composition of the ecosystem as a whole.

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Albino Plants vs Parasitic Plants

One of the really neat things about doing this field research is that I’ve been able to see things that I’ve learned about in class, but that I’ve never seen in person before. Two of these are albino plants and parasitic plants that naturally lack chlorophyll.

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