A list of general ideas for research projects

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Here are some examples of research problems/questions related to ecological effects of land-use history in landscape context. It's not an exclusive list; you may have a completely different idea, or you may come up with significant variations on these themes. These questions are also way too broad for your ultimate needs (i.e., to come up with a project that's viable in the framework of a few weeks this fall); you would need to develop much more focused questions and hypotheses within these general notions. Recognize and accept that there will be some pretty significant constraints on what can actually be done -- realistically, projects may be limited to preliminary proof-of-concept approaches. But you should be able to design something, collect some data, do some initial comparison and analysis...

BEFORE our first class/field-trip, give some thought to one or more of these (or something else you think of). Focus, particularly, on:

  • what SPECIFIC aspects of question could be addressed? What can I measure/manipulate that would tell me something about it?
  • how can I frame question as a hypothesis that generates particular predictions (that would be different from predictions of alternative or null hypothesis)?
  • what would be interesting comparisons that would be informative about my question (experimental approaches are of limited utility in this arena!), and how might I structure them to best control for extraneous variables?

1. Do different historical land uses (grazing vs. cultivation vs. neither) lead to differences in current plant diversity in our study area? Or differences in ecological guilds (e.g., dispersal mode, pollination guild, etc.)? Consider how time and spatial scale play into this...

2. Can land-use history (type of use, scale of fields, time of abandonment) be related to landscape properties (e.g., proximity to roads, steepness, elevation, soil properties)? You'd likely address this primarily through GIS modeling, but might need to do some field mapping and ground-truthing.

3. How does land-use history interact with distribution of invasive species? Earthworms? Invasive plant species? What kinds of interactions would need to be controlled for (terrain properties, forest canopy composition and structure, interactions between invasive guilds, etc.)?

4. How are differences in forest structure (canopy height, density, above-ground biomass, etc.) related to land-use history?

5. How does land-use history influence soil properties (like soil respiration rate, water-holding capacity, bulk density)? How do such effects interact with current vegetation type? terrain?

6. Do forests of different land-use history manifest differences in ecosystem function (net primary production, biomass accumulation/carbon sequestration)? You would need to focus on specific aspects of ecosystem function that you could get a handle on -- e.g., leaf litter production, tree growth rates, etc.

7. Do animal communities or species distributions respond to different land-use histories? Could look effectively at some soil invertebrates, red-back salamanders, maybe some types of birds...