Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Harvesting" barley and weeds

I spent the day collecting over 50 samples each consisting of digging up a plant, (barley, Alyssum, or crested wheatgrass), collecting the top 2 cm of soil for seed bank sampling, and a soil core for DNA extraction in the restoration exclosure (picture below) or in the remnant native site which since last spring has been taken over by invasive species. It's depressing from an ecological perspective to see the loss of native grass species. But that is what the NPS, W&L
students and I are working to correct.
In the picture above the light yellow/tan is planted barley in the exclosure. The area is 23 acres and you can see the edge of the fence on the left side and the trees in the front are the closest edge of the fenceline. The barley grew well only in the areas where Roundup was applied in the left half an herbicide directed at crested wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum) was applied and Alyssum desertorum survived and the barley barely survived.

I also sampled in the area where two new exclosures are currently being constructed. The picture below demonstrates what creatures of habit Elk are. The fence is not yet finished but it was placed in their normal trail coming off of the Yellowstone river and they didn"t know what to do. So they ended up laying down and ruminating for an hour and were still doing so 2 hours later when I was done sampling. If they only knew that it was for their own good.

After sampling the now invaded "native plant species" remnant a cloud burst opened up and I got the picture below of a rainbow over Roosevelt Arch. Not a bad way to end the day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Collecting samples and a little hiking

I started out at 6:30AM to go look for wildlife. No luck. I got to the Lamar Valley just after sunrise and it was completely fogged in. So I turned around and headed to Crystal Bench to collect soils. We can use these as a comparison to invaded soils in the Gardiner Basin (~30 miles as the Raven flies). Although they have different geological impacts over time it is a dry winter range site that can be used as a benchmark for the restoration project. I got the sunrise picture below from the Crystal Bench site (Just off of the Lamar river).

Then I went to look for Alyssum desertorum using GPS coordinates from Montana State. We tried to find them this past spring but ran in to a grizzly on the Lamar and that ended that pursuit. Well unfortunately I was successful today. The site is covered with A. desertorum and it's cousin A alyssoides which goes to seed in the fall. It is patchy from the road to the Lamar river but is covering an area of about 5 acres and I suspect it will continue to spread. The picture below shows A. desertorum in the foreground as all of the short light tan stick like objects. I collected soil cores and surface soil samples for seed bank/germination estimates.

Since I was out in the park and had some time I decided to head towards Yellowstone Lake via Dunraven Pass/Mt. Washburn to look for Elk and Bison. As I got close to Mt. Washburn I decided to go to the fire outlook on the top. It's always closed in the spring so now was my chance to get to the highest point in the park. It is a 2.8 mile hike up an access road that is used by the Rangers that staff the outlook. There is a more difficult route up the front side of the mountain but it was closed due to grizzly activity. I took my bear spray and headed up at 9:50 AM and figured I could do it in one hour. After the first 1000 yds I thought I was done. Going from 1100 ft in Lexington to 8800 feet can take it out of you. But I turned it around and made it to the top at 10,243 ft in just under 1 hour. The weather turned nasty with rain/freezing rain, so I didn't spend much time at the top but I did meet a nice couple from Canada and they took my picture.

Of course a quarter of the way down the sky opened up to blue but it made for a nice descent. You can see the blue sky in the photo of fire killed trees below.

I then headed further south towards the lake into the Hayden Valley hoping to see large herds of bison or elk. I did come across a huge herd of bison ~300 crossing the road. No pictures I have plenty of those. I turned around and headed for the Gardiner Basin to start sampling the exclosure. It will be seeded with winter wheat on Thursday and I want to get a thorough sampling of the planted and now dead barley biomass, plus sample the areas where the barley didn't grow but A. desertorum did despite herbicide treatment. One interesting outcome of the fence and the planting of barley is that a pair of sand hill cranes now spend a large portion of their day feeding on the large number of grasshoppers as well as the barley seed heads. In the picture below taken at 7 this evening the male is getting a little upset with me getting too close and is letting out a loud warning call.

Tomorrow more sampling and a talk for the Yellowstone Center for Resources and USDA-NRCS.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fall trip to YNP

Big time thanks to James Dick for getting up at 3:30AM to get me to Roanoke for the 5:30 flight to Charlotte then Denver and finally arrive in Bozeman at 1PM.
I'm going out to get soil samples and give a talk on the latest data. Much of it from last spring and all of it analyzed by Maya and Camden with the technical expertise of Kelly Hemminger.
Getting ready to board.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Last day in YNP

The day started halling seven boxes to the YNP supply center for FedEx pick-up. Then a quick return to the lodge to get the crew (the Doray is small so I made the trip alone) to go back to Mammoth for the presentation to the YCR. There were about 20 park employees in attendance and the data generated a good discussion about the restoration efforts in the Gardiner Basin.
We had lunch at the Sawtooth deli in Gardiner. It was snowing and raining in Mammoth so we are going back later to hike the hot springs before dinner at the Town Cafe. After lunch we cleaned up the lodge and now we are waiting to head to the hot springs. The weather still looks bad, but as we have learned it could be sunny in Mammoth and the weather will change, probably in the next 10 minutes.

That's all for now. It's been a great trip all around.

Perhaps we will get some pictures of the wolves that have denned up near Mammoth (the former Canyon Pack) and will share them later. But if not. See you in Lexington. We are leaving for Bozeman at 4:45 AM for our 7:30 flight.

May 6 Wrapping up in the field and packing up the lab

Not much excitement today. We took the last soil cores today from the SBU experiment and removed our soil fungal tubes. The agar did dry out some but there was still agar in contact with the 37 micron mesh. We shall see after we return.

After field work we came back and packed up the lab and I finished the presentation for the Yellowstone Center for Resources for tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Canyon, Yellowstone Lake and more weather

We started out the morning by adding solutions to our SBU and urease inhibitor experiment. Went well and the data was collected this evening and will be sampled again tomorrow AM. The results we are finding are consistently low soil urease activity in Alyssum desertorum soils and soil respiration in response to SBU is 2 -fold greater in the remnant site by the Yellowstone river in the Gardiner Basin. Further analysis of this interesting result will be performed back in Lexington. On our way out to Canyon this morning (it was too cloudy for respiration) we spotted a group of photographers just before Roaring Mountain and there was a young grizzly tearing apart a rotten log looking for grubs, without a place to stop we kept on going.

We stopped at Mud Volcano/Churning caldron (yes correct spelling). Pretty cool geology even though it smells like rotten eggs. The video below is of the Churning caldron.

Then we headed on down to Yellowstone Lake. The road just opened May 1 and none of the services are open yet, it was pretty quiet. We got a group picture with the frozen lake in the background.

Then we stopped at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

On the way back through, and now with blue skys, we got to see the same Grizzly grazing on some fresh green grass from 100 yards. Plenty of pictures were taken.

On the way back to Gardiner we got stuck in yet another Bison jam. I took some close ups this time.

When we got back to Gardiner clouds were still to thick to do soil respiration using the solar panel so we hit main street Gardiner and did some souvenir shopping. After an hour it looked clear so we set up to do species specific soil respiration. I took half of the group back to the lodge to sieve soils for future analysis and on my return back to Gardiner (25 min later) the weather had turned quickly and put a stop to respiration after one replicate.

Within 10 minutes of leaving the field site we got to see a rainbow over Gardiner and the sun quickly came back out.

Tomorow we hope to get soil respiration done and we will take our final soil cores from the SBU experiment and remove our fungal soil tubes that we installed 10 days ago. Then it will be time to pack up samples and the lab and get them back to Lexington. Time flies.....

Monday, May 4, 2009

Not a predator in sight but a good day in the field.

Today we hit Gardiner Basin to sample the restoration exclosure prior to seeding with barley and to quantify soil respiration in our field simulated bovine urine experiment. Using a solar powered pump and CO2 Infrared gas analyzer we can quantify the flux of CO2 from the soil. After a few technical difficulties and several clouds we were able to quantify soil respiration in the GB agricultural field and the native remnant (still has invasives but has not been impacted by tilling). We are starting to get data sets analyzed and things are shaping up quite well. In brief, Alyssum desertorum inhibits fungal growth and in soils in which ALDE dominates the response of soil microbes to SBU is reduced. We have layed out several experiments that we will conduct after we return to campus and several still in the works for the last few days that we are here. The video below shows the stark contrast in weather from a few days ago.

Tomorrow we will set up another lab urease incubation experiment and go back out to GB to quantify soil respiration for species specific soils.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Alyssum hunting = Grizzly

We started out at noon today after "sleeping in" (it is Sunday after all) and cleaning up the lodge. We were headed out to Slough (pronounced slew like stew) Creek and the Specimen area to look for Alyssum desertorum. Using GPS data from the Univ. of Montana we had waypoints to check that had previously identified ALDE's presence. On our way out we passed a bison kill that was 10 feet off the road near Specimen, nothing was eating it but plenty of photographers were waiting for an animal to return (When we came back through the carcass was loaded on a truck to go to the carcass dump, not safe that close to the road).

The hike down the Slough Creek was nice, no ALDE, but we did see plenty of Bison a few ducks and coots and some fresh bear tracks (a little unnerving) but hiking with 7 provides safety in numbers and we had our bear spray. Slough creek is one of (if not the most, Eric?) species rich area in Yellowstone. It is my favorite place to hike. Although it can be hiked on a gravel road it gets you off of the beaten path somewhat and you can hear nature. We even heard the spring peepers today.
Just can't stop taking pictures of bison.

Above is a Bufflehead duck that was being harrassed by a Barrows Goldeneye duck (Below).

So after we finished the Slough Creek hike we headed back towards Specimen to find an ALDE waypoint. Nearly to the destination we see a load of RV's, cars and spotting scopes. We happened upon a grizzly eating an unknown (to us) kill on the Lamar river. The waypoint we were looking for turned out to be on the river bank and probably 1/4 mile from the grizzly so we didn't look for ALDE, but we got great pictures and video, once again. We are really fortunate. Seven wolves and 2 grizzlies on three different kills, all within 3 days.

Tomorrow we will be conducting another lab incubation of soils with simulated bovine urine and an inhbitor of urease. Plus we will be going out to quantify soil respiration in the field and sample soil in the restoration site prior to seeding (which may occur this week).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A quick taste

On our way to Old Faithful today we got incredibly lucky and found a female wolf from the Gibbon pack on a grizzly killed bison. We are off to collect cores now but will update with all of the grizzly details, photos and video later.

After she had her fill she crossed the road and headed off into the woods.

Videoe below not for the faint of heart. Lots of rare meat.

Friday, May 1, 2009


This wolf crossed the road in front of us near the old Picnic stop in the Lamar valley. We then looked to the left and saw it's partner still on a kill. We couldn't see the kill but knew it was there based on all of the birds hanging around.

This is the wolf that was still on the kill and then left and gave us a good opportunity to get pictures.

Then as we were heading back we saw a large pack of spotting scopes and knew there was some action. Three wolves from the Agate Pack and a grizzly on what we think is a bison kill.

The video below is through David's spotting scope. We will get more up later but we need to get to work, the sun is actually shining. No snow!!!

Evening update: After an exciting (close to once in a lifetime) morning we came back and took a quick brek. Then we went out to set up another SBU experiment in Gardiner Basin. The weather the day before didn't make for the best 24h sampling so we started over again.

Not a bad field site (when the sun is shining)

Tomorrow we are going to head down to Old Faithful and Canyon and then sample our SBU expeiment in the afternoon.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's snowing again....

We finished setting up our lab simulated bovine urine (SBU) experiment by adding the SBU and inhibitor to the samples. They will incubate for 24 h and then we will quantify the amount of carbon dioxide produced. This will provide a comparison to the field SBU experiment we started today in the driving snow, once again. One of our soil incubation tubes was pulled out of the ground and crushed with obvious human footprints around it. Dissapointing and puzzling since this area of the park doesn't see many visitors and the cores are not visible from the road.

After getting the experiment started we headed into Mammoth to see if the Canyon wolf pack was around. No luck, but on our way back out we saw 2 doe Bighorn Sheep crossing the road. The picture below is of one of them.

Tomorrow we plan to get up early and go looking for wildlife, we still need to see grizzly and black bears. Then we will finish sampling our lab SBU experiment and then count fungal plates. The bacterial plate counts were actually too successfull. Most of the plates had too many colonies to count. We will repeat this experiment when we return to W&L. But our control plates are still clear as day, not a single colony, so it is possible to perform sterile microbiology at 6,300 feet in a lodge.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Today we went to a native remnant site to collect soil samples and that went well, but then the weather went south quickly. More photos tomorrow. The video below sums up the change while we were sampling soils to determine the seed bank of A. desertorum and annual wheatgrass.
After returning at 2PM we warmed up and set up an experiment that will investigate the effects of simulated bovine urine (SBU) on microbial biomass in soils collected from the 4 species of interest. By using inhibitors of urease (the enzyme that breaks down urea into CO2 and NH3)and bacteria we will be able to quantify the response of soil bacteria to SBU and the effects of invasive species on soil urease levels. Urease is an extracellular enzyme produced by plants, fungi and bacteria that is functional in the soil matrix but is also excreted in response to urea addition to the soil.
Colonies are beginning to grow on the bacterial petri plates that we poured yesterday (Tuesday) and we will count them in the morning. We plan to get out in the field tomorrow to do a companion SBU application in the field (we had planned to do this today but the snow and low temps made it impossible).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Snowed in

We woke up to 3-4 inches of powder with plenty still falling maye 6 inches total. It is starting to clear now at 2:40PM and the snow is melting. Up to now we have been making bacterial and fungal petri plates and then plating soil extracts containing microbes from Gardiner Basin soils. We are testing for effects of the A. desertorum on microbial growth. A total of 90 plates were prepared and innoculated in 5 hours. A bunch of work and now we wait. We are going to head out looking for wildlife this afternoon and have a late stir fry dinner. The video below sums up the morning. Hopefully we can update later with some grizzly and wolf pics.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Getting field science started

Today began with light snow and 20F temperatures.
I had a meeting with Mary Hektner. Mary works for at the Yellowstone Center for Resources-National Park Service and is the coordinator of the restoration project in the Gardiner Basin. We scheduled our coffee break presentation to YCR staff for May 7 at 10:30 where we will present the data we have collected and our plans for follow up experiments after we return to campus. While I was in the meeting everyone else went to the Albright Visitors center at Mammoth Hot Springs and watched a movie about the park (still 2 more to watch, they let you choose). We then returned to the lodge to finish our soil incubation tubes. This method is based on a paper published in 1940 in which soil bacteria and fungi (collectively called soil microbes) are collected by burying a glass tube that has thousands of small holes and is filled with nutrient agar. After a period of time the tube is removed and the agar is removed for the determination of diversity and abundance. We modified this method by cutting out channels in plastic centrifuge tubes and gluing on a 37 micron nylon mesh through which fungal hyphae and bacteria could pass but most, if not all, roots cannot. We filled them with agar and an extract of soil collected from one of the four species of interest (A. desertorum, P. secunda, E. triticeum, or, A. cristatum) . This will allow us to investigate changes in soil organic matter quality and any possible anti-microbial properties of the soils. In the video below Becca, Camden and Brittany are pouring agar into the soil incubation tubes. While we don't have a sterile lab to do this work in we do have an alcohol lamp, low humdity and low temperature on our side.

Becca, Camden and Maya installing the soil incubation tubes.

David, Brittany and Mackenzie installing tubes.
The tubes installed (we put in 36 total)

Not a bad view for a lab.

Tomorrow we will be plating out soil bacteria and fungi for most probable number counts (a measure of abundance) and collecting soils from a reminant native grassland in the Gardiner Basin and surface soils in the GB to determine the seed banks of the 4 species of interest. We may take a dusk trip out to look for wildlife. Still need to see a grizz from a safe distance. Today we saw a coyote try to take down a yearling Elk. It wasn't going to happen, but fun to watch nonetheless.

Picture post

Quick post of a link to pictures: We will update them each day.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Early morning = No wolves or grizzlies

Our early start began on schedule but with snow falling. We pulled out of the driveway at 5:20AM. On our way out to Lamar we passed a kill at Specimen which had obviously been an active sight in the past couple of days. Cones were up and one lone photographer was still hanging out. But nothing to see but ravens. At Slough Creek we saw a very new bison calf, still quite wobbly in the legs. Lot's of snow covered bison in the road.

In picture above from left to right: Becca, Brittany, Maya, Mackenzie, Camden and David

The lab at the lodge.

Back to the lodge by 9:45AM and then back to working on making soil culture tubes and making soil extracts for bacterial and fungal counts.

Snow has stopped now (4:15PM) but the forecast looks tough for the rest of the week, but we have plenty to do. Tomorrow we will install the soil culture tubes in Gardiner Basin and collect soils in the exclosure in Gardiner Basin that is the site of the restoration project. Barley seeds will be planted this week in the exclosure to act as a cover crop, stablizing the soil and increasing soil organic matter in preparation for future seeding with native grass species.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

First full day and we got a wolf (on film).

The day started with 12F temps but blue skies. The birds were still quite active near the lodge and David is giving us all a tutorial.
We went to Gardiner Basin to start our field work. After an introduction to the area and plants we took soil cores from the native grass Poa secunda (Sandberg's Bluegrass) and 3 invasives: Alyssum desertorum (desert alysum/madwort), Eremopyrum triticeum (annual wheat grass) and Agropyron cristatum (crested wheatgrass). The invasive species in Gardiner Basin have sigificantly reduced grassland productivity and we will be investigating their impacts on soil nitrogen cycling and organic matter decomposition. After collecting at GB we heade to Mammoth Hot Springs to look for Centaurea stoebe (aka maculosa) (spotted knapweed), we found very few, but on the way we spotted a lone wolf.

There was a kill (probably an elk) nearby that the park rangers were "guarding" and we figure this wolf was trying to get a meal. We spent a good 20 minutes using David's spotting scope and the 400 mm lens on my camera taking pictures and letting other interested passers by take a look. There are many more pictures (I took over 100 myself) and the video below is taken with a Flip MinoHD through David's scope, not easy to do, but when it is lined up the picture is awesome.

We also saw Bighorn sheep from a distance and plenty of elk, bison and pronghorn antelope.

Tomorrow we are getting up at 5AM to go "Wolfing/Grizzing". It's a 45 minute drive to the best wolf territory and we need to be there by sunrise for the best chance to see wolves or grizzlies.

It was a great first day, we all worked well together, got our research going and got to see a wolf.

Time for bed.

Friday, April 24, 2009

We've landed

After a successfull departure at 3:45AM from the parking deck and prompt arrival at 4:40AM (Thanks John) we cleared check in and security before the early AM airport rush. Three uneventful flights later we landed in Bozeman at 1:15PM MST. After receiving our not so "Large" Dodge Dorango from Enterprise we jammed in the luggage and made our way to Walmart. We bought a tarp and some bungees and managed to get the groceries in the Doray.

Then after a blue sky ride to Gardiner we then made it to the Bear Lair Lodge in Jardine (More on this great lodge later).

After settling in we took a quick trip into the park. We had a quick look at a juvenille bald eagle, rocky mountain bluebirds, and a pronghorn antelope.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lab all packed and on it's way.

We packed up the lab supplies today, six boxes filled with all kinds of good research stuff.
We are ready for just about anything the soil can throw at us. Hopefully I got it right. The mobile lab should be waiting for us when we arrive in
View Larger Map'>Jardine Friday evening. Next step is to pack the right mix of clothing for teens to hopefully 70 degree weather. We will be getting there in time for a below average temperature swing after an above average week prior to our arrival. Cany you say Climate change? Or is that how you get the monthly average temperature to work out right?
Back to menu planning. Need to be ready for Wally world when we land.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Getting ready for YNP

We will be blogging our trip experiences from the moment we get on the van at 4AM on April 24 until we are done analyzing the data at the end of Spring term. I'm new to this and if anyone has experience I could use a hand. Otherwise we will learn together. I want to use photos and video as well as personal updates about our experiences in YNP beyond the research we will be doing. Each time I go to YNP I amazed by something new that either I hadn't seen before or hadn't been there previously. I'm looking forward to the trip. Good luck on exams and have safe travels to and from break.