Science & Research

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

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Shepherd student to present tree research at a regional landscaping meeting in April

A Shepherd University student will have the opportunity to present the results of research she’s doing with a professor and another student at the annual meeting of the U.S. Regional Association of the International Association for Landscape Ecology (US-IALE). Sierra Hoffman, a senior biology major from Hagerstown, Maryland, will present a poster during the April 9-13 meeting in Baltimore.

 Hoffman is working with Dr. Mark Lesser, assistant professor of biology, and Amaris Jalil, a sophomore biology major from Charles Town, on a study to determine how climate change affects trees in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. 

 “I feel it’s a great honor and it’s prestigious because I know a lot of people don’t have this opportunity to present their findings to such a large conference,” Hoffman said. 

 Lesser’s research looks at why plants, particularly trees, grow where they do. 

 “One of the things that I’m just generally interested in is how trees respond to fine-scale differences in climate and topography,” Lesser said. “I am interested in how those trees are going to grow in that location in the future based on climate change, or how they’re going to have to move on the landscape in the future to stay within their climatic niche space.”

 Lesser, Hoffman, and Jalil collected tree core samples of 120 red oak trees at 24 different locations that spanned the full elevational range of the park. Hoffman and Jalil sanded and cataloged the samples, and measured the tree rings going back to 1965. 

 Hoffman received an undergraduate research fellowship from the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, which allowed her to work with Lesser over the summer and to attend the upcoming US-IALE meeting. Jalil received a Shepherd Opportunities to Attract Research Students (SOARS) grant to help with the research. 

 “I collected the data from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather stations and predicted the climate patterns,” Jalil said. “That way we can discover what climate variables most affected the width of the red oak tree rings.”

 “I think it’s really interesting to figure out the different climatic variables and topographic variables as far as looking at the entire heterogeneous tree community and being able to find one answer for one tree and then being able to apply it to the entire community,” Hoffman said. “I think it would be really cool to find a pattern.”

 In addition to the poster presentation in Baltimore, Hoffman will do an oral presentation of her research during the West Virginia Academy of Sciences annual meeting April 8 at Glenville State College, and Jalil will do a poster presentation based on the climate research she conducted.