Mini-Grant Report: Students Gain Perspective on Human-induced Changes in Soils

Throughout the Advent 2020 Semester, students engaged in weekly encounters with soils and their natural environments.  The typical lab experience juxtaposes the basics of soils and hands-on interpretation of a very complex natural community.  Students learned soil sampling techniques while collecting data to augment long-term data sets that will be used to teach future students, and for research by faculty and students.  Our goal was to learn more about soil ecology and physical properties and to investigate how the soils may vary with time and human influence.  A CfT mini-grant supported the laboratory analyses for some of the studies undertaken by the students. One of our interests is the long-term sustainability of human impacts on soils and forests under diverse uses.  

We focused on two forest sites on the Domain.  Both are long-term experimental sites where Professors Karen Kuers and Deborah McGrath and I have conducted research and teaching over the past 25 years. The “Chipper Site” is a forested site that was cleared of poor-quality hardwoods in 1976 to investigate the sustainability of conversion to pine and hardwood plantations.  Kuers has focused on the above-ground ecology and I have documented soil conditions

Sewanee’s sewage is recycled at the Sewanee Utility District spray fields along Sherwood RD.  The water is cleaned by a series of ecosystem-based steps ending with spraying of effluent in the surrounding 68 acre forest.  The students studied the merits of this system and helped collect soils data that Professor McGrath and I use to document the long-term effects of effluent on the soil and forest ecosystem.  These data sets are frequently used as teaching aids in our courses.

An ongoing forest harvest and restoration plan for a Domain stand along Sherwood RD was also considered by the students.  We focused on the use of Best Management Practices-protocols used to minimize and mitigate the effects of harvesting on water, soil, and other ecosystem components (images of students sitting on a pile of harvested trees and a log-loader).  Forest harvesting is a crucial, first step to restoring the forest vegetation.  In Easter 2021, students in two of my courses will be able to observe the results of the harvesting and preparations for forest restoration.  The students will learn to conduct research to collect information relevant to prescribed burns which will take place in 2022 by the OESS.

Scott Torreano

Professor of Forestry

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