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Hauser ’15 Working Science Skills in Alaska

Wes Hauser ’15 – Before this summer, I never imagined I would travel to a small town in south-central Alaska to hone my abilities as a scientist. However, here I sit in Homer, Alaska delivering an update describing just that. This summer I’m working on a series of projects with Smithsonian scientist and Wabash Alum Dr. Dennis Whigham, who I worked with last summer at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland. While my work from last summer was largely laboratory-based (and can be found here), the nature of my research this summer is strikingly different.
 
Wes Hauser working in Alaska fields.

Wes Hauser working in Alaska fields.

My attention is primarily focused on two research projects in Homer. The first explores the impact of landscape features on the nutrient cycling of two headwater streams. This involves collecting leaf litter and soil core samples from fertilized and unfertilized portions of the stream in an attempt to profile how Nitrogen moves through these systems. Previous work has shown that inorganic nitrogen is crucial to the vitality of juvenile fish communities in these streams; therefore, several management implications will emerge based upon how the surrounding wetlands source and store this valuable nutrient.

 
The second project I’m undertaking centers around a commonly occurring Alaskan bog orchid, Platanthera dilatata. Relatively little information marks the species’ population structure and reproductive biology, so I’ve been collecting those measurements from three distinct populations near Homer. I’ve also set up several pollination experiments and exclosures to determine the nature of how the species reproduces. Information from this project will be used to update the North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC), an online orchid information database governed by SERC.
 
While I’ve devoted much of my time to these two projects, I’ve also had several enriching experiences outside of my research pursuits. Taking time to enjoy the stunning natural environments of Alaska has been high on my list, and tide-pooling, trips to the beach, and hikes in the woods have all made my time here phenomenal. I’ve also had the chance to explore several museums in Homer that have outlined the community’s rich history (particularly through its ties to commercial fishing).
 
Needless to say, this internship experience has broadened my horizons both as a scientist and as a young naturalist. I’m grateful to the Wabash College Biology Department and the SERC Plant Ecology Lab for funding for this opportunity. I’m also thankful for my research mentor, Dennis Whigham.