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Summer of Science

Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Summer of Science
Unburned plots are covered in thousands of sugar maple seedlings!

Hello everybody! My name is Katie McGee and I am an undergraduate research fellow (affectionately shortened to “URF”) here at the Center for Tree Science at the Morton Arboretum for the summer of 2017! Academically, I am a senior honors biology student at James Madison University with a concentration in ecology and environmental biology. Personally, I am a Girl Scout that never grew up! I love hiking, camping and singing slightly off key while doing fieldwork. Luckily, my audience is only trees.  

dense, green forest understory
My research plots are located throughout the East Woods Natural Area.

This summer I am working with my mentor, Dr. Silvia Alvarez-Clare, expanding on 2016 fellowship research that found annual fires increased soil nitrogen (N). My project is studying how the soil N in different fire management areas affect leaf N levels in the canopy of four common tree species. I am also studying the seedling populations in my plots so I can see how the fire and nitrogen are changing the next generation of trees. While I am confident in my project now, the first two weeks were a loop of brainstorming and trial/error to nail down my project.

Crawling under bushes with my backpack, completely lost
Week 2 summary: lost in the underbrush trying to find the marker for a potential plot.

Week three and now week four are keeping me busy in the field. I counted over 4,000 seedlings between the two plots I set up last Thursday and Saturday alone! Only one plot left to set up before we collect leaf samples this Friday! Keep an eye out for my next blog on how we collect leaves from giant canopy trees!

compass pointing North lined up over a meter tape
Setting up accurate, square plots requires a compass to make sure the corner flags are in the right location!

While it is tedious work setting up accurate plots, I love every second of working outside: rain or shine! It is fulfilling to know that the data I am collecting brings us one-step closer to managing our forests to the best of our abilities!

Smiling while hiding under a tarp, soaking wet in the field
All smiles, rain or shine!


About the Author
Hello! My name is Katie McGee, I am a 2017 undergraduate research fellow at the Center for Tree Science working with Dr. Silvia Alvarez-Clare. I am a rising senior, biology major at James Madison University in Virginia. I have a double minor in environmental science and geographic science as well as an area of emphasis in global studies through the JMU Honors College. This summer I am researching how increased soil nitrogen levels after repeated fire management affects canopy foliar nitrogen and seedling populations of common tree species in The Morton Arboretum's East Woods.