Biology Students Conduct Research and Improve the Land
As part of St. Stephen’s Outdoor Education Field Research Station (FRS) program, students in freshman biology classes, taught by faculty member Dean Mohlman, are conducting a longitudinal study of the effects of clearing juniper (cedar trees) and other monoculture, which upset the natural balance of soils and flora.
Each year the students clear a portion of the land. Currently they’re working on what’s called the ‟4th Zone”, which is the hill-side land where St. Stephen’s Drive meets the old road, Bunny Run.
Zones 1, 2, 3 and 4 have been cleared least to most. The 4th Zone is being cleared the most aggressively, and the effort focuses on invasive plant species within a 12-foot radius surrounding Live Oak trees that have a trunk diameter of 4 inches or more.
Students are observing, over time, which grasses and understory plants recover when they're given space and sunlight. As they work, students and faculty have found old artifacts, such as barbed wire, a barrel hoop, twisted turn buckles, and more.
During this fourth year of the study, students have observed over time the recovery of native grasses, the return of Red Oak trees, Black Walnut trees, and gum bumelia. Native bird species have also found rest in the newly cleared space. In the spring, a white-eyed vireo nest with four chicks was spotted. The vireo are mostly migratory birds that perform two annual journeys: in the spring flying north to the North American breeding grounds, and during autumn flying south to the wintering grounds in Central America.
The biology classes St. Stephen’s FRS program are designed to allow students to participate in hands-on project-based research using our land and its resources. You can learn more about St. Stephen’s Outdoor Education program here.