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Adventures in the Field

Adventures in the Field
All of our field equipment crammed into the back of the car (at Red Rock Canyon State Park)

Hello, my name is Sara. I am from Evanston, IL and in the fall I will be a senior at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. I am studying Biology with a minor in natural resource conservation. This summer I will be working with Dr. Andrew Hipp and his research assistant Mira Garner on a morphometric study of Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak), where I will be looking at what factors affect leaf shape in bur oak trees and whether or not we can predict that variation by looking at latitude and climate. Currently, we don't know how much data is needed to predict variation in leaf morphology. How many leaves do we need to predict within-tree variation? How many leaves to predict among-tree variation or variation across sites? My study aims to help us refine sampling methods and be more confident in our predictions regarding what factors affect leaf morphology. A large part of my project this summer includes collecting samples out in the field (for the first few weeks of the fellowship, I will only be at the Arboretum once or twice a week!). Since one of the questions I am addressing is “which leaf traits are most responsive to variation in latitude?”, I will be traveling with Mira to several different sites in the north, south, and central regions of the bur oak range to collect samples of bur oak trees.


In addition to collecting samples for my project, we are also collecting samples and herbarium vouchers that my mentor will use for another project of his. Needless to say, we are pretty busy. We have already been to several sites in Iowa, and we just finished a trip down south where we collected samples from trees in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Later we will be going to Kansas, Canada, Indiana, and Michigan. Our goal is to collect 10 samples, per species of tree, per site that we go to. Our main goal is to collect  from 10 bur oak trees, but if we spot another species of oak we will grab samples from it as well. Before this internship, I had very little experience with tree identification, however I have been learning quickly! I always feel so proud when I can spot an oak tree from a moving vehicle.


Me trying to cut down a branch using pole pruners
Me trying to cut down a branch using pole pruners




My mentor and I pressing an herbarium specimen
Pressing an herbarium specimen with my mentor Dr. Andrew Hipp


If I have learned anything thus far, it is that fieldwork is challenging. We wake up early and work well into the evening. However, I feel very fortunate that I get to travel to places that I have never been before and learn new things. I am very grateful for this opportunity and I am excited to continue working on my project!



Highlights from my collecting trips thus far:

-the beautiful views at the state parks we collect/camp in (honorable mentions go to Lake of the Ozarks State Park in Missouri and Red Rock Canyon State Park in Oklahoma)


Sunset over a lake
The beautiful sunset at our campground

-going for early morning doughnut runs at local doughnut shops


A doughnut
Doughnuts make waking up at 6 AM every morning worth it

-seeing lots of wildlife up close (cows, bison, turtles, deer, goats…)


-staying with an Oklahoma University faculty member, Abby, who hosted us at her house (and helped us in the field) so that we didn’t have to camp in 85 degree weather


-meeting an adorable dog and some chickens at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma


A dog
We met this friendly (and dusty) dog at Tallgrass Prairie in Oklahoma

-campfire cooking at Ledges State Park in Iowa (we made pizza pitas and they were delicious!)


Cooking food over a campfire
We decided to get gourmet for our last night in Iowa

-going out for pizza in Little Rock, AR in order to avoid a rain storm


-having my first rainstorm camping experience (wouldn’t necessarily call this a highlight, more like a fun fact)


The view of the rain from our car
Sometimes fieldwork doesn't always go to plan
About the Author
My name is Sara Desmond and I am one of the undergraduate research fellows for summer 2017. I am working on a morphometric study of Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak) under the guidance of Dr. Andrew Hipp.