Dublin AP Environmental Studies students are partnering with the the Environmental Studies Department at Antioch University New England in their Monadnock Ecological Research and Education (MERE) Project. Through several long-term ecological research projects, the MERE Project is working to develop an in-depth understanding of Mount Monadnock’s current ecological patterns and processes. As climate changes in the years to come, the MERE Project will monitor its progression by looking at what changes occur to the composition of the natural communities of Mount Monadnock.
Why Study Mount Monadnock?
Mount Monadnock is ecologically diverse. The Mountain’s steep altitudinal grade, latitudinal position between two eco-regions, fire-induced timberline, and other conditions contribute to an abundance of plant communities.
In fact, all three of New Hampshire’s biomes alpine tundra, boreal forest, and eastern-deciduous forest can be found on the mountain. These biomes include plant communities that are typically found at more northern latitudes and higher altitudes. For instance, the high-elevation spruce-fir forests on the mountain’s upper slopes replicate lowland forests at more northern latitudes. The rocky balds are home to communities found at higher elevations in the White Mountains.
Such unique features make Mount Monadnock ideal for scientific study and educational outreach in the region. Mount Monadnock can also serve as a barometer of future changes for Northeastern forests. The mountain’s cold-loving plant communities, such as the spruce-fir forests, will be monitored over time to measure the effects of climate change. As the climate changes, these communities might be affected on Mount Monadnock sooner than at more northern climates. Such data will inform scientists and resource managers of oncoming challenges facing the region’s forests.
What are Crevice Communities? Why do we study them?
Crevice communities are small pockets of vegetation that are uniquely adapted to thrive in the harsh conditions of the rocky terrain of exposed mountain summits. They find footing in thin soil in the crevices that are protected from the strong winds. These fragile plant communities grow slowly and mature as low-lying shrub and forb communities. These exposed mountain top communities tend to be small and rare and, because of their unique growing conditions, differ greatly from those found elsewhere in southern New Hampshire.
The size and fragility of crevice communities make them extremely susceptible to human disturbance. With over 100,000 visitors to Mount Monadnock each year, human foot traffic is a real threat to their existence. Additionally, as the climate continues to change as a result of human activity, so do the conditions on top of the mountain. By monitoring these communities through time we will be able to better understand the impact of human disturbance and the changing climate on the ecology of the mountain.
For the last four years, Dublin has been one of two members of The Adopt-a-Crevice Community (AACC) program which allows high school students to engage in real ecological research. Students get the full experience of what it might feel like to be a field ecologist. After a day studying the sampling protocols and practicing orienteering skills, students begin their field study with a trek to the top of Mount Monadnock. Once on the mountain, students identify individual species, measure soil depth, and analyze vegetation coverage.
Environmental science teacher Katri Jackson finds the program a welcome change from the classroom and lab. “The kids get to do real science. They are part of a long term research study and they get to see that not all science is done in a lab. They are helping design a study. They are using real tools in a real environment.” The AP curriculum requires a lot of structured labs - in this case instead, students are exposed to the realities of field work - “they discover that in real science things don’t always go the way one expects. That’s where the excitement is…”
The crevice community that Dublin has adopted is near the top of the Dublin trail. Because the soil is thin; only builds slowly; and, is vital to the plants that colonize these areas, the crevice community is quite susceptible to external threats like foot traffic, climate change and acidic pollution. Over the last four years, Jackson has witnessed some small changes to the studied area. While the vegetation hasn’t changed significantly, there has been some soil compaction near the edges of the community closest to the Dublin trail from unaware hikers.