Monday, November 29, 2010

Hitchiti Experimental Forest

For our lab on November 11 we took a class trip out to the Hitchiti Experimental Forest.  Here we got to experience hands on all the things that the forest had to offer.  I’ll go over a few things that we learned about.
Wild Ginger

During our lab we came across some wild ginger (pictured above).  This small plant grows in patches close to the ground.  When you tore the leaf, it emitted a pleasant odor.  Also, the root can be used as a spice for cooking.  There were patches of this plant all over the trails at Hitchiti.

Leaf Litter Decomposition

While at Hitchiti we noticed that the forest floor was covered with dead leaves.  If you dug into the soil, you could see that there were levels of decomposition.  Fresher leaves were on top and the level of decomposition increased as you went down.  This is called leaf litter decomposition.  The compost created by the leaves provides a mineral rich soil for plants to grow from.  This is why so many plants can be seen growing out of the forest floor.  The picture above shows some decomposing leaves.  I looked for a picture with the layers of leaf decomposition but could not find one.  

Southern Pine Beetle and its Impact


While at Hitchiti we noticed several dead pine trees that could be attributed to the southern pin beetle (pictured above left).  This beetle will attack and kill a live pine tree by boring into the bark.  These beetles have been spreading across the southeast.  They leave the forest full of dead pines, as in the photo top right.  These dead pines eventually fall, sometimes taking other pines with them.  The effect of this is a breach in the forest canopy, allowing more sunlight to reach the floor.  This means that conditions are becoming more favorable for smaller trees and shrubs to grow.

Friday, October 29, 2010

My Favorite Biome: The Smoky Mountains

My favorite biome is the in the Smoky Mountains.  I'm not exactly sure what biome this would be, maybe mountain or Temperate Broadleaf Deciduous Forest.  But I love visiting this mountain range.  I try to make at least one trip yearly.  I have done some camping, rafting, backpacking, and mountain biking here.  The picture above is actually me standing on top of Upper Whitewater Falls in North Carolina, the highest water fall east of the Rockies.  Heres another picture from the front:
  I took these pictures while hiking the Foothills trail in the Carolinas.

One thing thats really cool, especially during this time of the year, is the turning of the colors in the leaves.  This is typical for a Temperate Broadleaf Deciduous Forest, or TBDF.  Also typical to this biome, are the layers that vegetation grows in depending on elevation.  At low elevations, there are towering trees, which turn into saplings, then shrubs, and then ground vegetation, such as mosses, as elevation increases.  Typical animals that inhabit this biome are: white tail deer, black bears, possums, racoons, grey squirrels, and chipmunks.

I plan on taking another trip to the same trail in the Carolinas this spring, so hopefully I'll have more photos to share later.

All info gathered at:

My Favorite Organism: The Kodiak Bear

The Kodiak Bear, or the Alaskan Grizzly, lives in the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago.  The bears immense size and natural weapons (claws and jaws) pretty much make it the top of the food chain.  Despite the fact that the Kodiak has been outfitted for carnage, it has the tendency to be a gentle giant.  After hibernation, the bear eats some growing vegetation as well as the remains of any animals that didn't make it through the winter.  During  spring, the bear eats many different types of vegetation.  The summer brings the running of the salmon, which keeps the bears well fed.  And in the fall, the bears feed on more berries and some invertebrates along the shore.  While there are several deer, elk, and goats on the island too, the bears seldom feed on them.

So like I said, the bear is kind of a gentle giant...but that doesn't mean they're nice to play with!

 All info gathered at

Mitochondrial Eve

Mitochondrial Eve is last determined maternal ancestor for all existing human beings.  Her title, "Mitochondrial," comes from the fact that her mitochondrial DNA is common in all human beings.  She is said to have lived thousands of years ago in Africa.  You can see an artists rendition of what she would have looked like as well as her descendants from all regions of the world in the figure below.
As you can see, Mitochondrial Eve has tan skin, dark hair and dark eyes.  You can also see the variations of her traits in the pictures of others from around the world.  While some traits differ from region to region, such as skin color, build, etc., certain traits still point back to the common ancestor.

Given the evolution of people over the years, its safe to say that human beings will have a different appearance in 1,000 years.  My guess is that people will be tan, have dark hair, and dark eyes.  This guess comes from the fact that most people today are dark skinned and have both dark hair and dark hair.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Woods Hole Marine Biological Lab

The Marine Biological Lab in Woods Hole, founded in 1888 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is the oldest private marine research lab in the western hemisphere.  The research institution started as a summer lab but is now operated year round by several world-class biologists and ecologists.  The MBL is famous for its use of marine organisms as models to make discoveries in the reproduction and development of all organisms.  For example, research done on the eye of a squid at Woods Hole was used to lead the way for today's neurobiology.

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect is a theory that describes how small variables can affect large and complex systems.  The example most commonly used to describe this theory is a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world causes a tornado in another.  This theory is attributed to mathematician and meteorologist Edward Norton Lorenz.  The theory poses that it is impossible to predict the behavior of a large system, due to the fact that one would have to provide for countless small factors in the model.