Prior to this internship, I had already thought I knew all there was to know about a balanced ecosystem. My knowledge of a healthy environment stopped at plants and animals. After all, that is all you need, right? Now, having spent the summer working with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, I have learned of the many varying levels beyond my previous generalization.
Our first great learning experience took place in Harris Hill State forest with forester Jeff Brockelbank. He shared with us his extensive knowledge of the woods with a focus on the essentials for a young forest to thrive. Initially I was under the impression that all a tree needs to grow is sunlight, water, and nutrients. I was correct! However, it becomes much more complicated than that. Some species require more or less of each. While others compete with the other foliage and wildlife in order to secure their monopoly of the sun. Furthermore, I had always believed that chopping down trees only had negative effects. I was shocked to discover that chopping down a tree was in fact one of the more helpful methods of allowing newer, more suitable trees to grow and it provided a perfect environment for doing so by preventing deer and other wildlife from gnawing away at the new trees.
The second most interesting aspect that I never would have considered was that of the macroinvertebrates. We spent a day collecting the insects and other small beings of the Chadakoin. I always considered insects to have just two purposes, to act as food for other species, and to annoy humans. Nevertheless, collecting these creepy crawlies was essential to determine the health of the river. It is a common belief that the Chadakoin river is dirty and polluted; fortunately, such a belief could not be more incorrect. The Caddisfly is an insect known to thrive only in the healthiest of water bodies. Each time we picked up our nets, we were left with hundreds of these larvae. We caught so many it became difficult to find anything else of interest when searching through our buckets. The Caddisfly is just another example of how complex an ecosystem can be, and how each species plays an important role, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
These are just two examples of the intricacies of nature. In my time here I have learned of many more. Sometimes, it is difficult to spot just how important one species, climate change, or human interaction can be to an entire ecosystem. However, it can be assured that each will have an effect.