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February 19, 2012 – Starting group research projects

February 20, 2012

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Today we began working on our group research projects. Our group has decided to look at differences between plant species diversity in burnt and unburnt forest. We have spent the past few days in Nahuel Huapi National Park, where a large forest fire swept across much of the landscape in 1998. Some careless campers had left a campfire burning, with disastrous consequences. On our hike yesterday, we had an excellent view across the lake of a large patch of burnt Nothofagus forest, which contrasted strongly with the lush green vegetation around it.

Early this morning, we set out to try to reach this patch of burnt forest in order to take samples of understory plants. Unfortunately, there was no clear trail to this area. We spent about 3 hours bushwhacking through the dense cane understory trying to find a way to scale the steep, rocky ridge. Eventually we admitted defeat and returned to camp for lunch.

Our wise TA, Chris Baird, gave us some excellent advice over our meal of soggy tuna sandwiches… “Why don’t you just walk up into the burnt forest?” … Easier said than done, Chris!

After traipsing around for another hour or so, we finally found a way up into a burnt area on the other side of the lake. We managed to sample five quadrats along a transect in the burnt area, then another five in the unburnt area on the same slope. The differences in plant diversity and species composition were striking. All of the large trees in the burnt area had died long ago, leaving much more sunlight available for small herbaceous plants to thrive. The decomposing trees also provide an enormous amount of nutrients for these shrubby plants. We hope to take further samples in another burnt area at our next site.

Although we spent most of the day frustrated and soaking wet, covered in burrs, it was quite an adventure and a great group bonding experience!

Love,

The Bushwhackers (Ayla, Amanda, Caitlin, and Ishanee)

Other group projects include:

1.  A comparison of avian diversity in disturbed versus undisturbed forest

2. A comparison of riparian versus more distant forested vegetation

3. Species composition of vegetation under forest canopy gaps and closed canopy

4.  Plant diversity along a gradient of forest canopy cover

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