Antioch University New England graduate student Hana Kiewicz-Schlansker, with support from Dr. James Jordan and Dr. Peter Palmiotto, has discovered some really old mud on Mt. Monadnock. Results from radiocarbon analysis show that a small bog near the summit began developing over 8,000 years ago. Further study should provide a record of changes in climate, patterns of natural disturbance and local plant communities since the last period of glaciation in New England.
“This research is very exciting as it will answer many long standing questions on the mountain’s disturbance history and changes in plant communities,” said Dr. Palmiotto, core faculty in the Department of Environmental Studies and director of the Conservation Biology concentration at AUNE. “We will be able to tell a story about Monadnock that others have not been able to tell before.”
In its more recent history, Mt. Monadnock has experienced significant human-caused disturbance. Since European colonization in the 18th century, forests on and around the mountain have undergone drastic changes as a result of agriculture, fire, and logging. Today, Mt. Monadnock is known as one of the most popular hiking destinations in the world, behind Mt. Tai (China) and Mt. Fuji (Japan). Over 100,000 people come to climb the mountain each year. Foot traffic from hikers now poses the greatest threat to Mt. Monadnock’s most sensitive and fragile ecosystems located at and around the summit.
But what did the mountain look like before European colonization? How has fire played a role in shaping its forests? Kiewicz-Schlansker plans on using paleoecological tools including radiocarbon dating and macrofossil analysis to explore such questions. Paleoecological studies use observations of plant material, insects, charcoal, and pollen preserved in peat and lake-bottom sediments to answer questions about how our climate and forests change over thousands of years. Radiocarbon dating provides fairly accurate estimations of how old the preserved material is.
“I find it fascinating that I am observing organisms that lived thousands of years ago, and that they can give me an idea of how forests have changed on Mt. Monadnock,” said Kiewicz-Schlansker.
Studies have been conducted throughout New England and all over the world. Paleoecological studies at higher elevations could offer important insights to contemporary ecological processes since these places are very sensitive to changes in climate and disturbance. The research done by Kiewicz-Schlansker on Mt. Monadnock would add to the ongoing long-term research carried out by the Monadnock Ecological Research and Education (MERE) Program, a collaboration between students and faculty at Antioch University New England and Mt. Monadnock State Park. MERE began establishing and sampling long-term study plots on Mt. Monadnock in 2007, which will enhance our understanding of forest dynamics going forward. And understanding the dynamic nature of our changing forests will help stakeholders make decisions about future management strategies.