Resampling plots in Dr. George Ramseur’s 1978 study of two of the Cumberland Plateau’s watersheds in Franklin State Forest and Fall Creek Falls State Park is a major focus for the herbarium this summer. Dr. Jon Evans, who’s heading up the work, was out of town one day last week, so I got to step in in his place. Post-baccalaureate fellow Callie Oldfield led a group of research assistants that included Emily Riedling, Katie Kull, Ed Haubenreiser, and Zach Loehle, all of them biology or bio/ecology majors.
After a 20-minute drive to Franklin State Forest, the group fanned out to lay measuring tapes to delineate a 10m x 10m grid within “Hectare 5” sample plot. That done, we began gathering data on all standing trees, some dead ones, and — separately — the occurrence of Appalachian hill cane.
The only identification challenge involved discriminating among the hickories, of which we had four possible species. Students would go to great lengths to gather ID clues — Zach even climbed a tree in an unsuccessful attempt to snag a leaf.
Of particular importance were the trees that George had documented in 1978. We recorded their status — living or dead — and, if dead, their condition. Downed canopy trees create light gaps, and Jon is interested to see how these gaps are affecting the forest’s emerging species composition.
These people are impressive — patiently placing (and re-placing) tapes and rebar to outline the original plots and carefully taking and recording data, all the while pushing through cat brier-filled light gaps and avoiding paper wasp and yellow jacket nests, as well as the occasional poisonous snake.
The sight of an animal brought all of them scurrying — earthworms were collected for later identification, and everything else was photographed. “Here’s a nice toad if someone wants to catch it!” “Worm!” Slug!” “Cool ovipositor on that parasitic wasp!”
I was glad to have been part of the day, enjoying these researchers as they went about gathering information that promises to inform our understanding of the Cumberland Plateau forest going forward.