Forest Ecosystems I - Field & Lab Research: Video Transcript

Dr. Melany Fisk [Associate Professor of Zoology]: We work in the northern hardwood forest, which is an extensive ecosystem that covers a lot of the northeastern United States and Great Lakes states. It's a pretty important forest ecosystem for timber products and so we're very interested in the things that regulate or influence forest productivity and forest health and also species composition of the forest.

So, we study not so much the above ground parts of the forest—the trees that we're used to seeing—but we study what's below ground mostly, and there's a fascinating diversity of organisms that interact below ground that influence the nutrients that are available and the resources that the trees need to grow.

And so we spend a lot of time in the field, in the growing season usually, taking soil samples and samples of plants and then we bring those back to the lab and spend a substantial amount of time (more perhaps than the students would like) in the lab, processing those samples, analyzing the communities of micro-organisms in them, the small invertebrates, and many of the nutrients and things that the trees need that are made available in those soils.

Shinjini Goswami [Zoology PhD candidate]: Field research is very important when it comes to our subjects like ecology and biogeochemistry, because without replicating it outside the lab work that we are doing—without replicating it at the bigger landscape level, it's not possible to understand the different values of forests or ecological processes that are continuing in today's society.

And I would also say that it benefits some way to do fieldwork in this form, because it also has, in the long term, we also need to know forest productivity and nutrient cycling. These are important things for the forest managers to plan their forest management practices and our research can help in this area.

And also to think about the way of keeping field data, it's a little bit necessary to be organized. Before you're going out to the field, print out your sheets, take the assigned responsibilities to different people who are involved in taking care of different things. Like for inventory purposes, there was one person who was recording each block, so the recorder would stand at a corner, and there would be three people shouting out numbers and calling out tree IDs to that person, and so you need to coordinate a little bit. That's how you do it.

Dr. Melany Fisk: Working with students is a really fun part of my job. It makes it much more interesting to be teaching people about research, about science, and about our environment.

I like to take students into the field and we have field stations in the northern hardwood forest ecosystems where we work. Sometimes the students stay there all summer. That's a really neat experience because they get to meet other students from different universities and many different specialties in terms of their scientific interests, and they live together and work together. I think it makes it a very enriching experience.

And back in the lab here in Miami, we also work together quite closely, learning different techniques they can use in their research.

[September 2011]