Monday, May 25, 2015

Remote Sensing at Acadia National Park

Posted by Richard B. Primack

“Nature will bear the closest inspection; she invites us to lay our eye level with the smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. She has no interstices; every part is full of life”
-Thoreau (1842) The Natural History of Massachusetts

The snow has finally melted on the mountains at Acadia National Park. Caitlin’s elevational transects and transplant gardens are now paying some unexpected dividends. Two remote sensing specialists, Prof. Crystal Schaaf and grad student Liu Yan from the University of Massachusetts at Boston visited Acadia to determine if these leaf out transects, which go up and down three mountains, will provide the crucial ground-truthing data needed to validate satellite data of spring green-up times. Will the density of sampling along the transects be sufficient? And will the transects exhibit enough spring green-up, despite the abundance of rocks and evergreen trees?

Here Caitlin (on the left) points out some plants that are leafing out in a transplant garden, with Richard Primack, Crystal Schaaf, and Liu Yan (on the right) looking on.

Later, on a walk through the forest, we noticed a strange, shiny, black, highly patterned structure on the ground. The structure was about the size of a grape. But what was it? One theory was that it might be the fruiting structure of a slime mold. Another theory was that it was the egg case of a mollusk. 

What could it be? It had a dense rubbery texture when poked. When the object was turned over, it had two reds spots on the underside. And it smelled slightly sweet. Could it be a candy dropped along a forest path, hundreds of yards from a road?

A visit to the main candy story in Bar Harbor revealed a glass jar full of black raspberry candies mixed up with red candies. Mystery solved!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spring snow phenology on Mount Desert Island, Maine

posted by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie

"Books of natural history make the most cheerful winter reading. I read in Audubon with a thrill of delight, when the snow covers the ground, of the magnolia, and the Florida keys, and their warm sea breezes; of the fence-rail, and the cotton-tree, and the migrations of the rice-bird; of the breaking up of winter in Labrador, and the melting of the snow on the forks of the Missouri; and owe an accession of health to these reminiscences of luxuriant nature." 

— Henry David Thoreau, "Natural History of Massachusetts"

Greetings from Maine!

My field site is still melting out from a winter of record-breaking snows. When I arrived on Mount Desert Island in early April the lakes and ponds were frozen and snow drifts covered the mountains — including the three transplant gardens on Cadillac Mountain. I hiked up the summit road, which was closed to car traffic and buried in about two feet of snow pack on April 11. The snow was deep, but solid, so snowshoes were unnecessary, though I wished I had packed skis for the trip down! The last bit of snow on summit garden finally melted this week, allowing me to monitor the spring phenology for ninety dormant blueberries, cinquefoils, and sheep's laurels.

The mid elevation garden on April 11 (top) and April 17 (bottom) this year
While the snow & cool temperatures have made for a chilly beginning to the season, I don't mind. Our research looks at the response of plants to year-to-year variations in spring temperatures. It may seem counterintuitive to find interesting climate change data in a cold year, but this extreme year will provide a great contrast to the other field seasons in Acadia. In the meantime, I'll warm up with some hot chocolate and keep tromping through the last snowdrifts that are holding on in the shady hollows on the mountains, looking for the first flowers and leaves on Acadia's plants.