Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mapping the Forest

Today, I caught a red-backed vole, which was fun. She was feisty and weighed 17 grams. How much is that in ounces?

We also walked a trail in the forest searching for any signs of animal life. We had a GPS with us so we could mark down the latitude and longitude of the big trees in the forest and any big turns in the trail. You'd be surprised how many signs of animal life you miss when you're not looking for them.

Challenge: name three different ways you can tell an animal has been somewhere in the forest without seeing the animal itself.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Seeing the Forest and the Trees

Today we visited a forest that is also a Christmas tree farm. Yes, we have been visiting the forest all along, but this was a different forest: a managed forest. We have seen forests that have been clear cut and then allowed to grow back in a natural way and forests that have been left alone--or old-growth forests. For instance, yesterday we saw a hemlock forest. Each of these is its own biome.

A managed forest like the one we saw today is one in which some trees are cut down in order to encourage the growth of others. Kevin, the man who owns the forest land, told us that he carefully picks trees that he knows will grow tall and strong, such as spruce. The ones that he grows as Christmas trees are balsam firs, but even those are selected for the best ones. Below, baby Christmas trees grow in a clearing surrounded by managed forest. Kevin said he is going to let this piece of land return to all trees because it is too far into his land. He makes some of his money by having a cut-your-own-tree business at Christmas.

Kevin does not use any fertilizer or pesticide on his trees.
What do you think some effects of that might be?
What does fertilizer do for trees?
Do you think that they have any bad effects?

What about pesticides? Kevin said that having large, healthy trees--his managed forest--around the Christmas tree farm helps protect his trees in a number of ways. One is that birds live in the older spruce trees. What do birds eat? Yes, bugs! So Kevin allows the birds in the forest to help control the bugs. He said that if the bugs are starting to harm the trees, he might release some helpful bugs like ladybugs into the forest to help take care of the bugs that eat trees.

Another way the forest helps protect the smaller trees is related to wind. What do you do on a windy day? Try to stay up against a building or near shelter, right? The large trees act as wind breakers so that the small trees aren't pounded by strong weather. Nova Scotia is on the Atlantic and the Bay of Fundy and gets its share of hurricanes. Small trees can't withstand that on their own. The little tree at right will not grow up. Would you want a tree this color and shape as your Christmas tree?

We also put out more small animal traps today, so I am hoping when we go back tomorrow, we will have some little creatures to count. We have moved to a different area, one that is old-growth unmanaged forest and a more open field. Small animals live in small areas and the small differences between lots of places to hide and nuts and grass to eat can lead to very different numbers and types of animals. We learned a math formula that will help us make an estimate of how many animals in total are living in one spot. By the end of the week, I should be able to give you some idea what we found, but the scientists have been collecting this data for 12 years, so what my team is doing is just a tiny piece of the whole project.