Various Projects on the Mississippi- Entry #2

Various Projects on the Mississippi- Entry #2

These past few weeks have absolutely flown by! As we’ve been finalizing the logistics for the beaver research, I’ve gotten the opportunity to help out in a couple super cool projects local to the MISS (Mississippi National River and Recreation Area).

The first project I was able to assist in involves zebra mussels and tracking their range throughout the Mississippi river near the bdote, or confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers near St. Paul. This research involves first dropping cinder blocks into the river at three different points. We started upstream and worked our way down, with our last stop being in view of St. Paul’s downtown area. Working at a park that stretches through two cities provides a very unique experience and an interesting view into how humans can interact with and affect ecosystems. It’s weird to be on a secluded waterway surrounded by vegetation with a clear view of skyscrapers in the background.

 After the cinder blocks drop, the hope is to monitor them to see if there are any invasive mussel populations gradually creeping through the river by seeing what accumulates on the blocks. This was my first fieldwork experience in the park and it was awesome!

The second project I’m taking part in is at Crosby Farm regional park, a local park that’s about a ten minute drive from St. Paul. This project is geared towards silviculture, and aims to study how vegetation in a floodplain forest is affected by climate change. Crosby farm is a great location to host this research as it is close enough to the cities to experience urban heat island effect. Urban heat island effect is the way urban areas experience higher temperatures than suburban and rural areas due to more buildings, pavement, and other impermeable surfaces that retain the heat efficiently thus warming the surrounding areas.

In this study, there are fenced plots that we go into and take vegetation transects at each of the cardinal directions and plot center. We look at the different species growing in the quadrat (a frame composed of PVC) while observing the types of plants, amount of coverage and height, and if there is noticeable herbivory or not. Along with that we are studying the regeneration of trees in the floodplain forest plots. In particular I’m very curious about the amount of cottonwood trees regenerating, as I’ve barely seen any regeneration yet! Aside from getting stung by the abundant nettle in the plots, this has been a super fun time that’s teaching me a lot about different field methods.

Lastly, I want to touch on the main project I’ll be working on mostly involving beaver herbivory. Floodplain forests have been heavily impacted by emerald ash borers and Dutch elm disease. This has led to a huge loss in the canopy of the floodplain forests. Along with these pressing issues, cottonwood trees – the primary nesting sites for our large bald eagle populations – are simply not regenerating as they should be. The cottonwoods saplings that were planted have consistently been affected by beavers breaching the protective fencing to get to them. What and how to replant these impacted areas are a huge part of the goals of this research. Throughout this internship I will take part in creating a statistically valid large river vegetation browse sampling for trees of all sizes within the range of the study. I will also help develop data sheets for sampling while evaluating impacts of wildlife on local floodplain forests. I’m really excited to get this project going!

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