At the start of this semester I began working collaboratively on a new research project! In an effort to stand up to the invasive beetle Agrilus planipennis, commonly known as the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), my dutiful and humble partner Mitch Kukla and I along with our wise mentor, seasoned ecological veteran, and fellow McEwan Lab member and PhD student, Julia Chapman, have begun a study to understand the impact of the EAB on an old-growth deciduous forest in Ohio. We are aiming for our research to provide useful insight for future park restoration work involving tree communities, as well as to formulate a better understanding on appropriate ecosystem management involving the EAB.

By definition, an invasive species is a non-native species that causes harm ecologically or economically, or even any sort of negative impact toward human beings. They are notorious for choking native species out of ecosystems through overutilization of resources, thus depleting biodiversity and ecosystem productivity. The EAB has been unbelievably detrimental in both ecological and economic forms, wiping out ash tree populations across North America and causing billions of dollars in “treatment, removal, and replacement of more than 17 million ash trees” (USDA Forest Service).

The method by which the EAB harms ash trees is as interesting as it is pathological. EAB larvae burrow through the bark of ash trees to feed on the vascular system, thus impeding sufficient nutrient transportation. Ultimately this vascular disruption leads to a slow death in ash trees because they are unable to sustain themselves. The EAB is virtually unchecked by any other organism in the greater North American ecosystem, which is partially why it is so successful as an invasive species.

Every weekend we venture to Drew Woods State Nature Preserve located about an hour north west of Dayton. Using the same methodology and plots of a study conducted several years prior, we are quantifying and identifying trees of all shapes and sizes. We will then compare the data from our study this fall to the data taken several years ago to determine the impact of the EAB. We are hypothesizing that the EAB is, for lack of better terms, going to wreck the ash tree population and have an impact on the proliferation of new ash trees.

Participating in an undergraduate research project is a unique twist to my undergraduate experience at the University of Dayton. My specific career path is not set, similar to many other college seniors, but I view my undergraduate research as an opportunity to optimize skills and knowledge I may use in the future. Additionally, and on a much more fundamental level, I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend in the forest conducting research. To be amongst the trees and studious colleagues doing science makes my heart warm.

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