Chestuts #3–Late season and current thoughts

Long days of solitary work tend to encourage wandering thoughts. Plenty of them are ridiculous—“hey, maybe if I manage to selectively kill only the mosquitoes that land on me, I’ll be able to select for a new strain that won’t feed on people!”—but some are more serious. One of these more serious thoughts came to me on a particularly hot day when I was feeling drained and unguarded. I knew that the goal of the chestnut reintroduction program is to create a hybrid blight-resistant tree that will be capable of establishing itself and spreading in the environment with a minimum of human assistance. When you stop to think about it, as I did then, this is very close to the definition of an invasive species. If the reintroduction effort were to succeed, the shock to the ecosystem from the return of the species could potentially have cascading effects, as is so often the case with any change in an environment. And even if the new chestnut is able to readjust to its former niche without incident, that 6% foreign DNA in the average individual produced by the Foundation might be just enough to significantly alter the species’ ecological behavior and cause unpredictable disruptions to the habitat. These are just conjectures, of course. They have not been tested and cannot yet be tested. But they are necessary cautions to bear in mind as work proceeds.

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Chestnuts #2–Midseason

After two days of measuring seedlings, two major trends in survival became apparent. First, almost all of the seedlings planted in the forested plots were dead. I also noticed that they tended to die from the top down, with new stems regenerating from near the base of the original stem. Second, and much to my surprise, the fenced-in plots (protected from deer browsing) had actually suffered far higher rates of mortality than the unprotected plots.

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Chestnuts in retrospect: background and first impressions from my time in Indiana

Well hello, fellow Charles Center bloggers! It’s been quite a long while since I last posted here, and for the delay I sincerely apologize. But perhaps this absence can be redeemed now by my ability to comment on my experiences with a degree of hindsight. Nonetheless, I will try to narrate the summer as I experienced it at the time, so that I can impart an unfettered sense of what it was actually like to collect my data.

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Introducing the New Chestnut

Hi, my name is Nick Schmedding and I’m a rising senior double majoring in biology and English. This summer I’ll be working at Purdue University (in Indiana) to help determine the best site conditions for planting blight-resistant American chestnut seedlings.

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