Beneath the Surface

Craig and Maia
October 18, 2018

Students seek for what is the upside-down!

I thought this class wouldn't have much to offer at first. I was used to a science class where we sit for the whole 45-60 minutes in our desks, and learned about things. This ecology class is very different. It incorporates elements of a public school white-walled classroom, but is way more focused on getting the students to think for themselves. Of course, it's hard to always connect ideas, like trying to find an equation for biodiversity, but we learn through communication with our follow peers, and our teacher… And nature…

We get to go outside in this class!

I mean you would think that I would already have the precognition that a high school ecology class would entail going and exploring, you know, the ecology, but I didn't have that back at home. In physical science, the only thing physical about it was memorizing formulas and maybe getting to mix salt in water, but wow! I was surprised when on day 2 of ecology at IAA, we went outside. We went to the woods, and was told by the teacher that this was our place to do our research. This pine woods right outside campus, was our place to become knowledgeable about how our planet works.

Early in the year, we were assigned a big project, as “Artists in Residence.” We decided to make our project about the mini ecosystems under dead trees. Sounds fun, right? For me, I want to learn about how fungi grows and utilizes fallen trees. Also, did you know that salamanders live in dead trees. These dead trees play an important role in the fertilization of the forest, and I want to find out exactly how.

 Walking around the forest, we usually take in a very one-sided viewpoint of communities of organisms around us. We see the leaf-covered ground, the trees randomly emerging from the Earth, and underbrush taking up negative space. How we see the environment from one perspective doesn’t change much from when we are exploring as children. Especially because most people are not educated extensively in how nature works, their opinions are formed from the surface-level knowledge, mostly acquired by the media.

The conditions under logs are perfect for species like fungi, insects, mushrooms, and animals such as salamanders. As a result, we have set out to uncover these communities to show that there is more to the iconic Michigan forests than we think, through a photographic collage. The photos we take in the forest at Riley Rd. will be used to show that the most overlooked aspect of the forest can be the most vibrant with life.

So far, we have been collecting pictures and observations over audio recordings in the forest. We have on weekends to Riley Rd. and used class time to carry this out. Normally, we will select a log in which we think will have biodiversity underneath, so in other words it looks like it has been on the forest floor for a significant amount of time. We then flip over the log to see what lies under it, record what we see, and finally return it as best as we can to the way we found it in an attempt to not disturb natural processes. Throughout this sequence of events, we take pictures of what is going on to ensure that we record every aspect of the decomposing log and the organisms that depend on it for a habitat. Lastly, we are taking data from multiple locations, including Riley Woods, a forested area off-campus, and around the Interlochen campus. Within the locations, we look for logs that are in various areas. For example, some could be in well-lit areas, low-lit areas, near water, near the coop, as well as other factors in a forest that could be different depending on where you look.