This week a group of researchers from the below ground ecosystem group took off for some rehabilitation work, and to collect soil and leaf tissue samples. We began the trip from Vancouver aboard a ferry bound for the Sunshine Coast. From the moment you step foot on the ferry you feel the stresses of work drifting away as you soak up the sunset and take in the puffy clouds lazily bobbing across the skyline. After a short journey up the BC coast we settled in for a weekend of landscape rehabilitation including tree and shrub planting, and invasive species removal. After a weekend of uprooting and removing the Japanese knotweed we continued on a journey towards the Interior of British Columbia. Early on in the trip we passed by Whistler (home of the previous Winter Olympics).
As we traveled further inland I was struck by the enormity of the mountainous terrain, and the vast expanses of coniferous forests. Below are a series of photographs as we traveled inland towards the research forests. You'll notice the dramatic effect of avalanches on mountain forests (for those unfamiliar with what these avalanche tracks might look like- visualize a ski slope, but the whole height of the mountain).
The forest species shift considerably as we travel from coastal forests to the interior forest communities. There are also an abidance of rugged escarpments where hardy trees are clinging to life.
We made our way into some of the drier parts of BC, and the smell of sage filled the air as we ambled on through the mountains.
After the tour of forests within BC we arrived at the experimental forest plots, planted in both pure species and mixed species stands. Below is a photograph from one of the characteristically fragrant yellow cedar plots- notice the distinct lack of understory vegetation. In contrast, the paper birch plots had a very prominent understory vegetation layer. After putting the soil samples on ice we made the long trek back to the university. I will be spending the next few weeks analyzing rates of nutrient cycling among the soils collected under different tree species plots. Off with the field gear and into the lab coats!
I have arrived in Vancouver and have spent the past week getting acquainted with the area surrounding UBC. To stave off jet lag effects from taking over, I decided to explore the city in my running shoes. Vancouver, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a runner's paradise! So many wonderful running trails that are really well-maintained. The city's parks are a stunning environment to be running through, with giant red cedars and western hemlocks (the above photo is from Pacific Spirit park). The university is situated right next to the pacific ocean, complete with great mountain views and plenty of forests to walk through with your morning coffee, or run through during your lunch break.
I am working with the Belowground Ecosystem Group (BEG) at UBC, which is a large and friendly group of enthusiastic ecologists, foresters, and soil scientists. I am looking forward to learning and sharing with my new collaborators over the next few months. This weekend I will be heading out to the field to collect my first Canadian soil samples, and to explore the more remote parts of British Columbia. Specifically I will be heading out to a long-term experimental forest with pure species plots. The main aim of my research here at UBC this summer is to determine differences in soil community, and ecosystem processes under different tree species grown in common garden settings. I will be using a variety of molecular and ecosystem ecology techniques to determine if tree species are influencing soil nutrient cycling within the experimental forests. I am excited to be working with the talented and varied BEG folks at UBC this summer. I will keep you posted on how the field work goes, and after sample processing is completed I look forward to sharing my results with you.
Treborth Botanic Gardens served as an excellent host for the opening ceremonies of the Two Dragons garden project last week (see more info here: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/news/latest/two-dragons-garden-project-18629). After the festivities I gave my first proper tour and laymen's terms explanation of the research being conducted within the Rhizotron. The trees performed brilliantly-granted they just needed to not die before the tour- but still, I am very proud of the little forests. Thanks in part to the unending Welsh rain events the trees have all greened up quite nicely and the sycamores have really leafed out, so the contrast in tree species planted within the experiment were really evident. Here's a Rhizotron selfie for you.
When not out admiring the slow and steady development of the rhizotron trees, I spent the past week finishing up some soil sample analyses and initial biomass measurements on the tree seedlings. I've even made my first rhizotron-related figures (aka graphs) of the size-distribution of the tree seedlings planted within the rhizotron, and the weight-distribution of the seedlings used for biomass measurements. One of the coolest analyses has to be burning the soil samples to get an estimate of carbon in the soil- so in essence I set the soils to a very high temperature- a different form of stress-baking for me, and its much better to be following a recipe in the lab, rather than just throwing together ingredients that sound good. (Note: I do not condone ingestion of lab samples of any sort, I am just drawing parallels to my tendency to bake brownies, cookies, and the like). So the initial soil samples have been sieved, extracted, prepped, and analyzed and now I just need to wait for the trees to grow up a bit and see if anything has changed in the soil. I'm excited to watch the progress of the tree seedlings over the summer months.
After much deliberation and careful consideration (hopefully enough), tree species were selected and the experimental design was agreed upon. The candidate tree species we decided upon are common to Western North America, and continental Europe in addition the United Kingdom.
After many hours of soil homogenization (aka A LOT of shoveling), and tons of great field assistance from Israel to ensure previous plants were fully removed from each soil bay, the Rhizotron was planted up and is ready to grow! Initial soil sampling is completed and I'm looking forward to watching these saplings put on some weight.
Here's an aerial view of one of the mixed-species soil bays- these little saplings are so cute, I just can't stop taking baby photos...
Relena is a forest ecologist and researches how trees and soils interact. She also likes to run through areas populated by trees.