Vegetation Monitoring

Hello all! I’m here to provide a brief snapshot into the work I’ve been doing with the N.C. Coastal Reserve, with the fantastic Kate Jones and Rachel Veal.

The Coastal Reserve office I intern at manages the Currituck Banks Reserve, the Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve, and the Buxton Woods Reserve. Each of these protected areas have their own allure, with Kitty Hawk Woods and Buxton Woods featuring some great hiking trails. Currituck Banks Reserve has a boardwalk trail that goes out into the Currituck Sound, that has an unadulterated vegetated shoreline. Migrating birds frequent all three of these areas, so it makes sense why birders flock here to get a sight of specific birds.

Now that you have a general outline of the managed areas, now for what I do…In addition to trail maintenance days and re-planting the rain garden at the Currituck Banks Reserve, our main focus has centered on replicating vegetation sampling transects done in the late 1980s; with the goal of pinpointing changes in plant species composition and habitats, and ascertaining possible causes for these transitions. Using VegBank, we isolated previously conducted plots within the reserves geographical area. This database provides data taken at the site, including the plant species present and the coordinates of the plot. Using their listed coordinates, we went out to find the plots we chose to replicate. As a side note, this task proved harder than expected because, back in the day, they had to determine the coordinates by hand. This increases the margin of error, so following the GPS to the stated coordinates did not always mean reaching the right place. In addition, the people designing the Carolina Vegetation Survey protocol suggested leaving a small piece of rebar, sticking out of the ground, as an indicator of a plots location. As one would imagine, thirty years’ worth of organic plant debris completely conceals a small piece of metal, initially placed there inconspicuously, to avoid tampering by others.

However, we did find the rebar at one of the plots – a truly exciting moment – and for the others, we went to the coordinates and then chose a 10x10m area based on a set of criteria. After measuring the area of the plot, and marking its corners, we designated five quadrats by randomly throwing a 1x1m square to intensively survey. This includes listing the 
different plant species there, how many of each kind there are, what percentage of the quadrat they comprise, and assigning them into one of five vertical strata classes based on their height. Following this, we conducted a residual survey of the rest of the plot – the area not included in the quadrats – using the same procedure, but only listing plants that were not in the quadrats.

A lot can change in thirty years, and a couple of the sites had fewer or none of the species listed originally. This could simply represent plant succession, but a lot of larger trees were absent. However, there was never a shortage of Loblolly Pines. Hopefully by replicating these surveys, now on a yearly basis, it will enable using indicator species to monitor saltwater intrusion – a large threat to coastal ecosystems. With the rise in sea level, the continual increase in development and freshwater use, and storm over wash, plant community compositions can drastically change. Researching the salinity tolerance of maritime forest and wetland species makes up another part of my job. Monitoring the plants present tells a lot about the abiotic conditions of the ecosystem.

Having the opportunity to explore and learn about marshes, estuarine systems, and maritime forests has been amazing. I have always enjoyed horticulture, and knowing the medicinal uses of plants, and my coastal plant identification skills have vastly improved since starting my internship. Writing down the same Latin names on data sheets numerous times definitely helps; and they also always take the time to point them out. I am very grateful for the knowledge gained, the time spent tromping around in the woods, and the great conversation.


Capstone and Cake

Amelia here! Another fun-filled week of internships, birthday celebrations, and capstone data collection at the Outer Banks Field Site. Starting out the week right, Tara turned 22 October 2nd, and as per usual, we went all out. Surprising new talents came out as people danced, filmed, and produced a music video (true masterpiece) for Tara’s special day to Taylor Swift’s “22.” And of course there’s the sensation that was her lemon cake:

Following these festivities, people volunteered at Bluegrass Festival throughout the week, with most of the town seeming to converge on Festival Park Wednesday through Saturday to listen bluegrass bands perform, eat food, and have a good time. October 6th marked the first Friday of the month (25 days until Halloween!), so downtown Manteo livened up for First Friday. On the first Friday of every month downtown Manteo has a street festival from 6 to 8pm, featuring live music and artisans and deals in local restaurants and businesses. It’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already!

However, the main highlight from Friday was splitting up into groups and collecting core samples and gas flux readings at Jockey’s Ridge and Edenton, NC. As part of the Edenton group, we decided to make a day out of the hour and fifteen minute trip: arriving, collecting all the samples necessary and exploring downtown Edenton. Arriving at the living shoreline in Edenton, we split up into groups to take core samples from the high and low marsh and get gas flux samples in fifteen minute increments.

Despite some setbacks – all part of the scientific process of course – it felt great to get out in the field, tromp around in our extremely fashionable waders, and make additional progress in the natural science portion of our capstone project. After completing the school related part of the trip, we went downtown. There we got dinner at Governor’s Pub, 10/10 would suggest the pizza, and found some great deals in a local consignment shop.

Meandering down to the waterfront we unexpectedly also got a history lesson, learning that one of the earliest organised women’s political actions occurred there in 1774, with the creation of The Edenton Tea Party by Penelope Barker. The plaque describing the event was placed in front of a picturesque colonial house, with a back porch you can sit on and look out on the sound. Delving into our marine ecology knowledge, thanks to our weekly classes, we noticed a cypress tree completely inundated with water, featuring the distinctive cypress knees for support. It was quite the trip.

Well that sums up a broad recap of the week: highlighting the accrued knowledge, experiences, and skills generated from our field site. With the semester flying by much too quickly, here’s to commemorating the support and instruction and interesting anecdotes we get from our teachers, internship mentors and fellow students every week!