Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hartnett Endowment Ignites Ecosystem Recovery Research

The John C. Hartnett Endowment was established in 2000 by Paul A. Lachance, Ph.D. (’55) and Therese Lachance to honor Professor Emeritus John C. Hartnett (’43) for his dedication to excellence in teaching and his outstanding influence on biology and other students at St. Michael’s College for forty-four years. The endowment provides funds to support student-faculty research opportunities, and when the endowment was first established there were very few funding sources to support student research - especially full-time research for the summer. Therefore, the Hartnett Endowment became a very important means of supporting summer research students for quite a few years.

Thanks to the support of our generous alumni, the Hartnett Endowment has grown considerably. In addition, in more recent years our faculty and students have had success in attracting other funding sources to support summer research, thereby increasing the overall amount of summer research activity in the Biology Department, but without drawing heavily on the increasing funds in the Endowment. This year, however, the Hartnett Endowment will provide a huge boost in kicking off a new research initiative in the Biology Department.

For several years, our Biology Department has had a cooperative research relationship with Camp Johnson, the Army National Guard facility adjacent to our campus. The Camp Johnson property supports the largest remaining stand of sandplain forest in Vermont, a forest community that thrives in sandy, low-nutrient soils and that requires regular fires to be sustained. As part of the long-term management plan, some sections of the Camp Johnson sandplain forest were burned in the mid to late 1990s. Each fall for the last six years, our students taking BI 151 (Introduction to Ecology and Evolution) have studied plants and invertebrates in both the burned and unburned sections of the forest to see how they differ.

In a new research initiative made possible by support from the Hartnett Endowment, a new section of the forest will be burned in spring of 2013. This not only will provide an outstanding research opportunity, but it also will benefit the management and maintenance of this rare forest community. To provide background information needed for future studies of forest recovery, Devin Latremore (’14), Nicholas Salvas (’15), Jennifer Labrenz (’13), and Aerielle Matsangos (’15) (in photo, left to right), and will be working with professors Valerie Banschbach and Peter Hope in the summer of 2012 to study the plant and invertebrate communities in areas to be burned in 2013 and in adjacent sections of the forest. In addition, our first-year students taking BI 151 in the fall of 2012 will also be providing critical foundation data in preparation for the burn.

This new research initiative, which includes collaboration among the St. Michael’s Biology Department, Camp Johnson, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and The Nature Conservancy, will provide a living laboratory of sandplain forest recovery right next door – something that students and faculty will be studying for years, and perhaps decades, to come.