What’s in a Field Station?

Some of the Huyck Preserve researchers stay in Lincoln Pond Cottage (left). They conduct most of their work outdoors, but rely on the labs and equipment in the Eldridge Research Center, too (right).

 

In 2008 Sarah Huyck Carter conducted interviews with scientists who have been involved with the E.N. Huyck Preserve and Biological Research Station for many years. Here’s what three of them had to say about the importance of biological field stations.

George Robinson, Ph.D., is a professor of biological sciences at the University at Albany (Albany, N.Y.). He is on the Preserve’s Board of Directors, chairs the Scientific Advisory Committee, and is a long-time researcher at the Preserve. He studies restoration ecology and forest succession.

Field stations are good mixing places, like stew pots. They throw people together. At best you get people from all over the world in informal settings. For science that’s critical. Important things happen when we get people together in comfortable settings and let them brainstorm. That’s a real value of a field station. When everything’s great you’ve got this combination of the ability to go off on your own to work and think. Then you can come back and join a group and learn what other people are thinking. Field stations serve as a meeting place and a chance to test your ideas informally. No pressure.

Jerome Rozen, Ph.D., is an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History (New York), and does worldwide research on the biology, immature stages, and evolutionary relationships of solitary bees (bees that don’t live in colonies) and cleptoparasitic bees (bees that lay their eggs in the nests of other solitary bees). He served on the Preserve’s Board of Directors from the 1980s until recently. Now an honorary directory, he is still active with the Scientific Advisory Committee.

Field stations permit you to carry on field studies where you have, close at hand, other facilities such as laboratories, microscopes, and other equipment. If you go out into the field where there is not a station you have no place to examine material that you’ve gathered. You have to wait until you get back to your home institution. Another important advantage of a field station is that it protects what you are studying so you can come back time and time again and be reasonably assured that the situation is not going to be drastically altered by a highway being put in, etc. Agricultural research stations have the same advantages. You can plow a field and plant it with something else and when you go back you can see what changes took place. You can also alter the landscape and be sure that it’s going to be there when you return to see the effect.

Peter Tobiessen, Ph.D., is an emeritus professor of biology at Union College (Schenectady, N.Y.). He is a long-time researcher at the Huyck Preserve and a former member of the Scientific Advisory Committee. His research interests include aquatic plants and the physiology of successional trees.

Field stations are critical because they can provide long-term data. One of the problems that we have in environmental areas is that we don’t have background data. If you see something that changes and everybody says, “Oh my god, it’s global warming” or “It’s pollution,” we get into trouble because we jump on those bandwagons and we don’t have the background data to know if this is just a blip in the data or whether it’s a real trend. And as a researcher, it’s awfully nice to know that your research site is going to be there the following year. I did my thesis research in the deserts and coasts of California. When I went back 10 years later, one of my research sites was a golf course and the other was a housing development. If I had wanted to go back and repeat some of my studies, that was going to be impossible. But if you have a stable site like the Huyck Preserve—people have recording data there for 70 years—that’s really great. I would take my class out there and I would have them repeat Eugene Odum’s studies (from the 1930s) of some of these sites to see if succession has been going on. It’s also critical to have field stations    in different environments. The Huyck Preserve is in a transition area. It has the lowlands effects of things in the valley and then it has Adirondack-type, northern hardwood forest places. This is an interesting area. It’s quite diverse.

The Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve and Biological Research Station is a 2,000-acre nature preserve in the tiny hamlet of Rensselaerville, N.Y. The hamlet is nestled in the Helderberg Mountains and is 26 miles southwest of Albany. The Preserve was founded in 1931 by Jessie Van Antwerp Huyck and named for her husband whose family once owned the forests, lakes, and waterfalls that make the up the Preserve. The Preserve’s trails are open to the public and public programs are offered throughout the year. In 1938, the Preserve added its scientific research station and scientists have been doing ecological research there ever since. For more information about the Preserve, visit www.huyckpreserve.org.

About L. Stephenson Carter

L. Stephenson Carter is a science writer/editor and was also on the board of directors of the E.N. Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville, NY.
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