A picnic shelter at Kiroli Park turned out to be a great place to begin. Birdsong, an occasional frog, early morning light and a gentle breeze provided a delightful backdrop to Dr. Joydeep’s introduction to Ecosystems & Restoration Ecology.

How does one convey in a short period of time the “flavor” of a field that begins with the premise that “everything is connected”? It’s a tall order, but Dr. Joydeep engaged us with tales of his own research in the Himalayas, basic concepts well explained, and activities that gave us a taste of what an ecologist does, whetted our appetite for citizen science and affirmed our value as naturalists.

insect collecting
Stephanie & Maggie Herrmann collected insects for Maggie’s school project along the way.      (photo by Charles Paxton)

“Ecology is grounded in patterns.” I had never thought of it that way before, but it made sense immediately. And then with one aerial photo of a landscape, we dived in, making observations, identifying patterns, and generating questions for further investigation.

We could have spent all day listening and discussing, but… there we were in a park full of trees! So we learned how to estimate the diameter of trees. I was astounded that after practicing on just 5 trees, we were able to estimate the diameter of 5 other trees within a few centimeters. I used the “hug a tree” method and it served me reasonably well.

Before leaving Kiroli Park, we walked a short way down a trail to a platform on the lip of a small ridge overlooking a wet area. From that vantage point, we could see the change in plant life from the mesic habitat at the top of the ridge (white oak, musclewood) to the hydric habitat at the bottom (water tupelo, river cane).

water testing
Dr. Joydeep goes way out on a limb to drop the water testing sensor into the still water of a pond at Restoration Park while I read off the numbers for others to record.     (photo by Charles Paxton)

We reconvened at Restoration Park after lunch. There we did some water quality testing in order to observe the differences between a stagnant pond (lentic) and a flowing stream (lotic), and between water on the edge of the park and water deeper into the park.

One of the great values of natural areas like Restoration Park is their ability to improve water quality, and we were able to demonstrate that. The moving water deeper inside the park was cooler, contained more dissolved Oxygen and had a lower pH.

All in all, it was a fascinating and fun day. Many thanks to Charles Paxton for providing photos for this post and to David Hoover for sharing his excellent notes.

green snake
On our way out of Restoration Park, we encountered this adorable little rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus).     (photo by Charles Paxton)

One thought on “Hug a Tree for Science!

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