Researchers invade Claytor Nature Study Center

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.

Also this summer, Jenn Weber, with two helpers from Fordham University, is doing postdoctoral researcher working on Project Baseline. One of her helpers, Beth Anseldi, said in an email, “Project Baseline is a collaborative project that is working to create a living seed bank that will enable scientists to study wild plant evolution in the face of environmental change, such as climate change. This unique collection will allow for comparison between traits of past and modern plants, as well as differences within and among populations of the same species across a wide range of latitude, longitude and elevation. Funding from the National Science Foundation has been awarded for seed collection from target species distributed in populations throughout the United States for a goal of 50 years.

“Wildflowers and grasses, both native and invasive, are all being collected across their ranges. Seeds from 200 individuals of each species are collected to be stored in the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Col. In the future, these seeds will be available to researchers asking questions of plant evolutionary biology.

“Claytor Nature Center is one of numerous sites the Project Baseline Eastern crew visits. It is a crew favorite for the natural beauty of the site as well as its generous and helpful staff who make our trips to the center efficient, fun and easy. Dr. Greg Eaton and Dan Miles, who have a vast collective knowledge of the species available at the center, as well as their exact locations, are instrumental to our collections at Claytor.”

Other researchers this summer include:

  • Teresa Clark from Purdue University who gathered information from LC’s Ramsey-Freer Herbarium for her research; 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.