Science Offers More Questions than Answers
species of flora have already become extinct because of global
warming but whether humans should relocate endangered species
to safer grounds is controversial, said one recent Smith
alumna who researched the practice for nearly a year.
Kaila Matatt ’10 conducts research at the MacLeish field
station in Whately, Mass.
Last fall, Kaila Matatt ’10 joined Jesse Bellemare, assistant
professor of biological sciences, on a five-year investigation into the success
of relocating one plant, the Umbrella Leaf, to cooler climes.
The native of southern
Appalachia met the typical criteria of plants that are most
in danger of extinction – those
with small geographic ranges and limited ability to disperse, she said.
Bellemare began the investigation in 2008, he sought and
received approval to temporarily transplant the Umbrella
Leaf to areas within state forests in Virginia, Maryland,
Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts. He also identified
three “control” sites
within the native range to provide a comparison.
After the initial two years,
Matatt and Bellemare measured the growth and survival rates
of the plants and found mixed results. Although the growth
rate for the relocated plants was significantly higher than
those in the native areas, the survival rate was lower over
Matatt recently shared those
initial findings during a daylong showcase of work by student
Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF).
Until the end
of the project in 2013, the plants will continue to be monitored
for germination and growth, as well as monitored for flowers
and seeds, she said. After that, all of the transplants will
“Assisted migration is a new
conservation method,” said Matatt, who will be
looking for another research position when her SURF ends
in August. “It is
controversial because some believe it will disrupt the ecosystem—it
is considered to be a tool of last resort.”
Matatt noted another, much less
significant factor in the survival rate of the test plants
—the difficulty of conducting the growth rate measurements.
Growth was determined by the
size of the leaves, which they calculated largely without
harming the plant by tracing a leaf onto paper then doing
the math. They were careful not to damage the leaves while
tracing, said Mattat, although “there
were some mortalities.”