David Mallard, ES '08Conservation Biology
Though there's a lot of noise now, climate change snuck up on a fair number of people, in part because they weren't watching for it. Watching for it and tracking the local effects of climate change has become a hot area of research, and it's one that sent Antioch University New England Conservation Biology student David Mallard to the slopes of New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock.
Mallard's research into the forest communities gracing the mountain's slopes will provide baseline data for a larger program called the Monadnock Ecological Research and Education Project. Helmed by Antioch professor Peter Palmiotto , the project aims to educate the public about the local effects of climate change. It's one thing to hear about how global warming may be affecting the far-off Arctic; quite another when you hear how it's changing the ecology of your backyard. Visitors to Monadnock will learn first-hand how climate change is affecting the mountain's ecology and the landscapes they see as they hike the mountain.
Obtaining a base line of current forest conditions on the mountain is a necessary first step in establishing a monitoring program. Mallard set that as his goal. As his master's thesis project, he established permanent research plots on the mountain, 88 in all. Within each ten-meter diameter plot, Mallard inventoried every tree that measured two inches in diameter and larger, noting its species, tagging it, measuring it, recording its state of health or decay. During the summer of 2008, additional AUNE students will tally understory and herbaceous plants to complete the picture of the forest communities at each research plot. Mallard expects that the sites will be revisited every five years or so to see how the forest communities change over time and, possibly, how those changes might be linked to climate change.
No doubt it was a long summer for him - he catalogued 1,200 trees - and though working in a picturesque environment, the days sometimes proved difficult. He found himself scrambling off ridges to avoid sudden storms and their attendant hailstones and lightning, fighting his way through thick, gnarly pockets of dense vegetation. And then there were the bugs. "Probably the worst part was the combination of deer flies and mosquitoes. The deer flies were vicious up high, and down in the lower elevations were the mosquitoes. And then there was this wonderful band where they overlapped."
Before establishing his research plots, Mallard faced challenges of another sort. The state of New Hampshire, the town of Jaffrey, and nonprofit The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests all own different bits of the mountain. To establish his permanent research plots, Mallard had to approach all the stakeholders and obtain their blessings. "I'm really fortunate that Peter Palmiotto has gotten behind this project wholeheartedly," Mallard says. Palmiotto played a key role in presenting the project to the various stakeholders and the Monadnock Advisory Commission. "Instead of just me, Joe Schmoe graduate student, trying to pitch these people, having a doctor of forest ecology who is core faculty at Antioch made a huge difference."