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Down the Rabbit Hole

Down the Rabbit Hole
Not quite a rabbit hole, but close enough

While measuring and dating (or matching a year to each tree ring) the oak cores I collected earlier in the summer, I noticed an abundance of ring anomalies that aren’t supposed to be common in oaks.

In my last blog post, I described the process by which a tree forms tree rings; however, it’s not quite as simple as that. Sometimes trees create extra rings, commonly known as “false rings.” This happens when the tree stops growing in the middle of the growing season and then starts again, leaving two rings for one year.

Besides being annoying when trying to date (or assign a year to each ring), these false rings also pose an interesting question. Most of the rings were found in trees with fire in their history, however it would take more research to verify the exact locations and timings of the prescribed burns in comparison to the trees. Is it possible that fire caused these false rings? As much as I would love to know, this is one of the questions that I just don’t have time to answer.

I was warned near the start of this internship to avoid chasing data down rabbit holes. While it’s important to be curious and follow where the data leads, there isn’t time to explore every unanswered question in forest ecology in the space of one 10 week internship - as much as I wish there was. Maybe the mystery of the false rings will be the project of some future research fellow, until then I’ll just have to wonder.

About the Author
My name is Sierra Lopezalles. I am a rising sophomore at the California Institute of Technology double majoring in Biology and History. I am a 2017 summer undergraduate research intern at The Morton Arboretum working in the forest ecology lab with Dr. Christy Rollinson. My project is to study how different regimes of prescribed burning effects the mature trees of the Morton East Woods.