Earlier this year, Environmental Science Systems Professor Larry Tanner and two Le Moyne students traveled to Costa Rica to study the carbon dynamics of reforestation in the mountain cloud forests of the Central American country. Working in conjunction with the Monteverde Institute (a private educational-research organization) the goal of the research conducted by Tanner and juniors Megan Wilckens and Morgan Nivison was to determine how long it takes for mature forests that have been cut down to recover all of the carbon lost from the forest and soil when the forest is allowed to regrow.
For Nivison, this was her third international research trip, having accompanied Tanner and other students to Iceland and Costa Rica previously. “ I love research trips and traveling, so I was just wanted to get to Costa Rica as soon as I could and start our next project,” she said. “Most of our days consisted of working in mature forests, secondary forests, and clearings measuring the above ground tree biomass and the soil carbon. My job mainly consisted of pulling soil cores, recording the color and grain size, and bagging them so we could transport them back to Le Moyne.”
“I’ve never been in a rain forest before so being in one every day for over a week was amazing, seeing something completely different than what I’m used to at home,” said Wilckens. “I loved being able to actually do work in the field with Dr. Tanner, Morgan and Katie Johnson, a biologist at the Monteverde Institute.” The experience in Costa Rica was her first taste of field research.
While the bulk of their time was spent in the field, they were able to take some time and explore other aspects of Costa Rica. They ventured out on a couple of very interesting hikes, which were grueling and at some points very steep, but led them to vistas that were off the beaten path. “These sites were spectacular natural features that are not huge tourist sites, which makes it that much better in my opinion,” said Nivison. They swam in the Pacific Ocean and even went zip-lining.
Both students' long-range plans are to continue onto graduate school once they get their undergraduate degrees in environmental science systems, and the experience in Costa Rica will clearly help them achieve that goal. “One of the biggest reasons I came to Le Moyne for the environmental science program was because of the travel/research options that were available, but I didn’t expect to have multiple opportunities to do so,” said Nivison, who hopes to become a fluvial geomorphologist and eventually get her Ph.D.
Wilckens wants to work with others on restoration and conservation efforts to protect threatened habitats and species from anthropogenic causes. “Working with Dr. Tanner was great. He’s done a lot of research before so he knew what needed to be done and how to do it,” she said. “Before we went he sent us articles and information to study and familiarize ourselves with so we’d be prepared. Once in the field he showed us what we needed to do and assisted us in collecting the data. I was learning new things the whole time I was there.”
Once they returned to campus, Nivison was responsible for analyzing the more than 300 soil samples collected, while Wilckens calculated the carbon mass for approximately 1,600 trees she measured. The pair presented their research at Le Moyne's Student Scholars Day in April and are currently working on publishing the results of their work.