Mount Allison students study decomposing sub-alpine trees.
Students from both the GENS 3401 and GENV 3701 class at Mount Allison have been busy completing environmental science/studies research projects. This includes a group of students who call themselves the ‘Rotten Loggers’ research group. These researchers are studying the rates of decay for Engelmann spruce in subalpine areas. Their goals are to understand whether or not decomposition rates for Engelmann spruce are increasing, decreasing, or remaining constant under the influence of climatic variations.
This group spent two days collecting samples from decomposing and live logs in their study area near Hilda Creek Rock Glacier in Jasper National Park. Before sampling began, the team developed a classification system to qualitatively define stages of decomposition based on physical characteristics (i.e. amount of bark, presence of moss). Through the use of this classification system, it was possible to collect a diversity of samples at different stages of decay. Once the dead samples had been collected, live Engelmann tree cores were collected from trees near the decayed logs. These cores are being used to typify the radial-growth pattern, or signature, of how the trees have been growing at the site over the past few hundred years.
After arriving back in Sackville, these researchers have worked extensively in the Mount Allison Dendrochronology (MAD) Lab using dendrochronology methods to determine the growth signatures of the live and dead samples collected from the study site.
“Everything is going well with the project so far; we’re currently cross-dating [pattern matching] our samples,” said Robyn Snook, a member of the Rotten Loggers team.
“There hasn’t been a lot of research in this area so we are pretty excited to be able to take part in it.”
This research has many practical benefits to the field of alpine research and dendrochronology. By understanding the changes in decomposition rates as a result of a changing climate, it is also possible to gain knowledge relating to issues with nutrient cycling and other important ecological processes in sub-alpine ecosystems. All members are very excited to disseminate their primary results and conclusions at the Atlantic Canadian Association of Geographers (ACAG) conference in Moncton, New Brunswick later this month.
Adam Cheeseman is a fourth-year environmental science student. Check out The Argosy for more Jasper coverage.