Researchers invade Claytor Nature Study Center

Wednesday June 18 2014


eric hearthSeveral graduate students have descended on LC’s Claytor Nature Study Center this summer for research projects, and thanks to the new Chandler Eco-Lodge, they have a place to stay.

Eric Hearth, a graduate student at the University of Arkansas, will spend 24 days at Claytor in June studying invasive species. Eric is working on his master’s in invasive botany. He learned about Claytor from his advisor, Dr. Steve Stephenson ’68, an expert on slime molds.

Eric is studying invasive plant communities to understand the most beneficial habitats for these unwanted guests, which often crowd out and kill native species without providing any benefit to native fauna. He said invasives are so difficult to remove that the goal needs to be to prevent their introduction in the first place.

stiltgrassAs Eric looked at the Japanese stiltgrass (left) throughout the woods along a trail, he said, “Management on this scale is about impossible.” Herbicides are a bad choice because they kill everything, and generally the invasives survive because they are prolific seed producers, he added.

Sometimes people intentionally introduce exotic or invasive species without understanding the consequences, Eric said. Other times, the species are picked up in tire treads or even hikers' boots and unwittingly spread from place to place. Of course birds and other animals can also spread seeds. Invasives usually gain a foothold in areas that have been disturbed by roads and trails or other development.

Eric sampled soil moisture and pH samples, as well as light ratio, to determine what habitat his invasives liked best. In addition to stiltgrass, he was tracking down Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, garlic mustard, and lespedeza.

Eric said his stay at Claytor has been wonderful, and he’s had the Eco-Lodge to himself most days.

Other researchers this summer include:

  • Teresa Clark from Purdue University who gathered information from LC’s Ramsey-Freer Herbarium for her research; 
  • Jenn Weber, with two helpers, from Fordham University who is doing postdoctoral researcher working on Project Baseline, a multi-university collaboration that aims to create a unique seed bank used to study plant evolution in response to environmental change; and
  • Chelsea Cunard, a PhD student at the University of Georgia, also with two helpers. She has visited for several years and has a permanent plot on the flood plain of the Big Otter River to study the dynamics of Japanese stiltgrass.