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Growth rings, growth rings, everywhere…

It has been six weeks since we returned from fieldwork, and I am now four weeks into the first term of my PhD studies. Much personal time has been spent catching up with family and friends, and school life has occupied even more time with administration, coursework, and scholarship applications. But here and there I am managing to squeeze in some research project priorities.

First order of business: dry out those samples!

Second order of business: Narrow down my research interests.

My research will combine fieldwork with dendrochronology to specifically investigate how shrubs may be affecting productivity in the range of the Bathurst caribou herd. I want to find out what species of shrubs are on the landscape, how long they have been there, and how quickly are they growing. This information will then be related back to changes in the sub-arctic climate over the past three decades, to explore factors influencing productivity. In other words, I am interested in shrubs. So much so, that I plan to spend the next four years studying shrubs.

But what does this mean with regard to the road ahead? Until we find time to update this website with more specifics about our fieldwork and how it furthers the Range Change project, I can summarize our summer accomplishments relative to growth ring sampling as follows:

1. We visited 10 “greening” sites and 10 sites where vegetation productivity hasn’t changed in the past few decades.

2. At each site, we collected 10-15 shrub root collar samples for dendrochronology and 44 pairs of shrub stem samples for growth analysis.

3. In addition, we obtained cores or cookies (slices) from 150 trees, approximately two-thirds of which were black spruce and the remainder were white spruce.

Do the math, and this means there are at least 2,110 samples (1,760 shrub stems + 200 shrub root collars + 150 tree cores/cookies) to dry out, preserve, and process! That is a LOT of shrub samples. While Robin investigates caribou movements within the herd’s range, Danielle compares vegetation communities between the two site types, and Emily explores how micro-habitat influences seedling establishment, I anticipate being hunkered down in the lab counting shrub growth rings.

Lots and lots of shrub growth rings.

As I consider the implications of this, I think I can reasonably expect that in very little time I will be seeing growth rings in my sleep! This leads me to think back to early September, when my parents visited Kingston and treated me to dinner for my birthday: the Maitre D’ walked our party across the restaurant and seated us at a table backed by the most beautiful wall decor… an omen of what is to come?

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