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Archive for the ‘alpine’ Category

Hopefully our blog imparts the sense of urgency that comes with field season. Time is limited, and a lot of effort and funds go toward maximizing the success of a project. The last thing a researcher wants this time of year is to be stuck at a desk trying to iron out details of a new method. Yet here I sit for the fourth day scanning papers, emailing and telephoning experts in an effort to determine how to process the 25 root samples I have waiting in the refrigerator. These roots are from plants in the order that contains the heath family (Ericales), which means they have a symbiotic relationship with underground fungi called mycorrhizae. I want to know which species of mycorrhizae are growing on the roots, and what percent of the roots are colonized by the fungi. The details I’ve gleaned so far are that the roots must be processed within 10 days (they are now 5 days old), and that of all the possible mycorrhizal fungi to study, these are the most difficult to handle and isolate. One expert encouraged me to switch to a different system to avoid the challenge entirely! Sadly, that is not an option, so I plunge further into the cutting edge of mycorrhizae study, with the knowledge that the primary reason there are so many great unanswered questions is because of the effort required to develop techniques to study these mycorrhizae, not because no one has thought of them yet.

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Hello from the State side! While some of my cohort has been busy carrying out their research in Greenland, I’m continuing my work in the alpine zone of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Thirty percent of the alpine flora of New Hampshire is left over from the last ice age, which means they grow in the Arctic as well as New England alpine zones.

Mount Lafayette and Potentilla tridentata, which also grows in Greenland


My work investigates how these plants interact for resources — are they competing, or are they working together to maximize resources? The best way to test this is to remove the neighbor to see how it responds. The photo below shows one of these removals, where I’ve trimmed back the Diapensia lapponica, a soil-forming cushion plant, that was growing around Vaccinium uliginosum, the alpine blueberry.

Soil probes in a treatment plot will measure the soil nitrogen


Because both of these plants also occur in Greenland, I also have research sites in Vulgaris Valley, although the cushion plant I removed is Dryas intergrifolia rather than D. lapponica. If the blueberry grows better in the absence of the cushion plant, it implies competition is taking place between the two species. If blueberry growth decreases, these results imply that the cushion plant was facilitating the blueberry. Tune in later for results — I have to wait until the end of the growing season before I’ll have results.

Not all plants are shared with the Arctic. This rare flower, Geum peckii, is found only in the White Mountains.


I look forward to the new cohort meeting the flora of Greenland next week and seeing what flowers they post on the blog.

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