8th Grade Visits Harvard Forest

19 Oct

On Wednesday, October 17th, Applewild eighth graders took a field trip to Harvard Forest  in Petersham, MA. It was a crisp, bright morning and a great day to be outside. Upon arrival in Petersham, the students and Mrs. Chamas were met by Mrs. Lent, who provided a “tailgate treat” of cider and cider donuts. The group was then given an overview of what goes on at Harvard Forest. The organization is a Harvard University affiliate that hosts scientists from all over the world and is home to many LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) studies. This is particularly relevant to these eighth graders as they will contribute data to the Our Changing Forests LTER Study. This is the third year that Applewild has participated in this project, which involves monitoring forest plots on campus to look at forest health and composition in a warming climate.

After learning some background information about Harvard Forest, students toured the famous landscape dioramas in the Fisher Museum. Completed in 1933 after over ten years of work, these scenes are truly impressive works of art that tell the story of land use change in New England over 200 years.  Students observed some features in the dioramas that they were later able to see firsthand in the field as they toured the forest.

Led by knowledgeable ecologist tour guides, students walked the French Road Trail to the Black Gum Trail. They stopped along the way to practice tree identification, learn about some common (and some unusual) native species, and to “read the landscape history” by looking at tree diversity and size. They now know the difference between a single and double stone wall and what that means about past land use, how to identify sweet birch and wintergreen, and why Striped Maple is so unique. They also learned why the autumn colors are not as vibrant this year (it has to do with the rainy and warm fall weather).

As part of their tour, students visited an art installation focused around the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, an invasive insect which has devastated Eastern Hemlock populations and has been able to spread further north due to warmer winters. They observed a deer and moose browsing “exclosure” and learned about the impact that other types of mammals can have on forest ecosystems. They visited a forest “megaplot” (a study site like theirs but much, much larger) and an atmospheric carbon monitoring tower where they examined data that showed seasonal shifts in carbon uptake by surrounding trees.

Throughout the trip, the eighth graders asked great questions and made strong connections between their science course content and what they saw in the forest. They are enthusiastic about continuing their ecological monitoring on campus at Applewild and excited for a year of scientific exploration.