UC Merced researchers take advantage of the university’s proximity to the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range through research in Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon national parks.
Professors Stephen Hart and Michael Berman and Yosemite Field Station Director Becca Fenwick hosted eight students from around the state and the country as part of the National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates program (REU). Students lived in the park for nine weeks and worked closely with scientists from UC Merced, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geologic Survey.
Home base for the students was Yosemite Field Station, located in the park’s Wawona district. The field station is part of the UC Natural Reserve System, a network of 38 protected natural areas across California administered for research, education, and teaching.
Hart said the goal was to accept students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity for real scientific research experience.
“It went fabulously,” Hart said. “The eight REU students all were exceptional students and they gave outstanding oral presentations of their research in Yosemite Valley at the end of the program to park personnel and other guests.”
A highlight for the students was living in the park—not something everyone gets the chance to do. In their time off, the students took full advantage of their location to hike, backpack, swim and camp. They also took part in interactions with other, non-mentor researchers in the park on Science Mondays, and occasionally on weekend trips like an overnighter to Mono Lake led by Chris Swarth, director of UC Merced’s Vernal Pools-Grassland Natural Reserve Project.
The students came from Bakersfield College, Eckerd College in Florida, Montclair State University in New Jersey, City College of San Francisco, Knox College in Illinois, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz and, of course, UC Merced.
“What was most surprising to me was how well they all got along with each other,” Hart said. “They all shopped for groceries and cooked together, and did non-research activities together. I never expected such a cohesive group. I am sure that some lasting friendships were formed this summer.”
The program had 130 applicants for eight slots this year, and Hart said he expects many more applicants next year. Additionally, the annual Ecological Society of America meeting is scheduled to happen in Sacramento during next year’s REU program, so Hart said he hopes to take the students to the conference.
“It would be great if we could take them to a day or two so they can experience what it is like to attend a major scientific meeting, and perhaps network with other ecological scientists and undergraduate researchers from elsewhere in the United States,” he said.
Students in this year’s REU program investigated:
- Microbial ecology and biogeochemistry in mountain lakes with Professor Michael Beman, a microbial ecologist.
- Rising snowlines and water availability for park resources in a warming climate with Professor Roger Bales and Jim Roche of Yosemite National Park, both hydrologists.
- Hydro-ecological implications of buried volcanic ash in the meadows of Yosemite with Professor Teamrat Ghezzehei, a soil hydrologist.
- Effects of physical perturbations in the environment on soil organic matter dynamics with Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, a soil biogeochemist.
- The role of biotic and abiotic controls over conifer seedling establishment in subalpine meadows in Yosemite with scientist Lara Kueppers and USGS ecologist Rob Klinger.
- Yosemite Valley’s riparian habitat with biologist Sarah Stock and social scientist Todd Newburger, both of Yosemite National Park.
- The giant sequoia population’s demographic structure and impacts of fire and soil biology and nutrient cycling with Bill Kuhn, a Yosemite landscape ecologist and Professor Stephen Hart, an ecologist.
- Anthropogenic and biogenic fluxes of greenhouse gases in Yosemite with Professor Elliot Campbell, an environmental engineer, and Leland Tarnay, a physical scientist with the park.
To read the rest of this article, go to page 22 of the inaugural issue of UC Merced Magazine.