by Riley Steinbrenner
Ever since Dom got stuck between a hand drill and a hard place the first time I ventured out with him and Patrick, this whole “tree skirt” situation had just been a figment of my–well everyone on station’s–imagination. That is, until one day at the end of July when Dom invited me out to see what looked more like a landing site of some extraterrestrial visitors compared to the research site I’d first encountered.
As I approached his first of four study trees, a blue-tarp mushroom had sprung up from the ground—the tree skirt. Since he plans to observe if wet-region trees utilize groundwater during periods of drought, or less rain, like their dry-region counterparts, Dom first had to figure out a way to create a drought for his experimental trees. (He’d planned all this fieldwork during the Northwoods’ extended drought, only to have two wet years make things difficult!) That’s where his tree skirt comes in. Using five football fields’ worth of duct tape, Dom and Patrick started tailoring their first experimental tree with blue tarp bought from Wal-Mart. Pieced together in paneled triangle shapes like a giant beach umbrella and held up by string spider-webbing to nearby trees, the tree skirt stretches out eight feet from the trunk. Five tarp catchments line the edges of the skirt to siphon any rainfall away from the tree’s roots, creating a fake drought. Dom plans to observe if these experimental trees fashioned with the skirts will utilize the groundwater below them to quench their thirst during periods of “drought,” or, in this forest, siphoned rainfall.
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If you’re an undergrad here on station not working for a grad student or for LTER base crew, chances are you’re on fish crew. Every summer, a group of four students come up to Trout Lake for four weeks to monitor fish populations in the seven North Temperate Lakes – LTER study lakes using a sample platter of trapping techniques— from archaic seining to high-tech electrofishing. With so many traps to handle, fish crew is split up into day fish crew and night fish crew. Choosing sunlight over moonlight (sorry, Bucky), I tagged along with day fish crew for a morning retrieval of gill, trammel and Fyke nets on Sparkling Lake where Aly, Aaron and senior research assistant Pam recorded fish species type, length and weight.
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