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"X" Marks the Spot

"X" Marks the Spot
A graph depicting ring width over time for over one hundred trees

When I started this summer, I treated gathering my data as the end goal. Like the “X” marking the treasure on a map, I assumed that if I could just get all the data - collect all the samples, measure all the ring widths, cross-date all the trees - that everything else would fall into place.

I was wrong, of course. Half the battle of research, it seems, is knowing what to do with the data once you have it. I learned that not all of it was usable, like all the ring widths from before 2000, while some was also irrelevant to the story I was trying to tell, like tree heights. Then I was still faced with the struggle of how to analyze the rest of the data. There’s linear regressions, and generalized additive models, and generalized additive mixed models, and each one outputs its own mix of p-values, t-scores, and coefficients. To be honest, I’m still a little confused by it all. It feels like I could analyze the data a hundred different ways and get a hundred different results and it can be overwhelming at times, which is a reminder that though this summer has taught me a lot about research, I still have even more to learn.

Through it all, I was lucky to have so many wonderful people supporting me. I want to thank Dr. Christy Rollinson for teaching me all that I know about forest ecology, Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare for helping me write my first research paper, and Christine Carrier for creating such an amazing fellowship program. I also want to thank the Center for Tree Science and Morton Salt, Inc. for funding this summer. Lastly, I want to thank all of you lovely readers who took the time to share this journey with me though my blog posts.

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.