The USDA Forest Service Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory has a long history. At a recent tour there, I was regaled with tales of how their meteorological measuring site had been there since the 1930s, when the lab was established in the western North Carolina mountains.
A quaint, aged wooden enclosure akin to a birdhouse provided cover for a temperature measuring system that used the same system as the original an informational sign near a streamflow measurement site was reserved for black and white photos of Civilian Conservation Corps workers, standing near the same place we were, separated from us by nearly a century.
For all of the history Coweeta has, it certainly invests in the future. This is shown by the numerous interns who worked on summer projects under the tutelage of its knowledgeable scientists. A symposium in July gave these interns a chance to present what they had been working on to a room packed full of scientists and answer questions about their methods and findings.
The first to present was Olivia Swift, who graduated from Franklin High School this past spring. She presented her research results on microplastics in the Little Tennessee River watershed. Swift estimated microplastic concentrations by dissolving freshwater Asian clams collected in streams and counting the microplastic contents found in their tissue. Her advisor, Jason Love, is the Coweeta Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project site manager.
Bam-Bam Edwards, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presented the results of a collaborative research project with Mainspring Conservation Trust. He assisted with monitoring fish in streams and ran statistical computations to investigate how percent forest cover affected the species of fish present in the Little Tennessee River watershed.
Next, Erik Ramos, a senior at Humboldt State University, spoke about his work on a project investigating the nitrogen cycle and its relation to southern Appalachian forests. Mentored by Nina Wurzburger, an associate professor at the University of Georgia and Forest Service collaborator, he used GIS mapping tools to identify sites along a hillslope to measure denitrification potential and nitrogen fixation rates. Ramos also used GIS to estimate the surface area of nitrogen-fixing root nodules.
Barbara Ellen Kipreos, a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, spoke about how prescribed fires in the mountains of western North Carolina increase populations of insects that are eaten by migratory breeding birds.
Finally, Jasmine Williamson, a graduate of the University of North Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in biology, presented her project about hybridization between two salamander species in western North Carolina.
The symposium ended with a delicious barbeque and no shortage of good conversation. As the crowd coming from the food line melted away into various circles, talking and eating, scientists and technical and professional staff mingled with interns and students. More experienced employees discussed findings and offered advice to the students who had presented, and interns shared stories about their time in the field. It was a fitting way to end the day, with newer scientists being welcomed by those who were more experienced.
For more information, email Chelcy Miniat at chelcy.f.miniat @usda.gov.