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Author Archives: Jason M. Sheldon

NRE faculty member and students researching effects of salinization on wetlands

Connecticut now has a fraction of the forested wetlands that used to cover the state. Until the middle of the twentieth century, clearing land, constructing roads, building infrastructure and introducing irrigation and drainage systems did not require an assessment or mitigation of potential environmental impacts. Amidst growing concern for wetlands, the US Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a nationwide wetlands inventory in 1954. In the decades that followed, further scientific studies helped raise awareness of the benefits of wetlands for habitat, improving water quality and providing flood protection. The change of public opinion from approving of wetlands use for residential and industrial improvements and landfills towards conservation led to the adoption of legislation throughout the 1960s and ‘70s to safeguard wetlands. The volume of forested wetlands in Connecticut has since remained relatively consistent, with small losses due to natural conversion, typically becoming ponds, and from development projects. The embrace of wetlands research helped ensure the passage of federal and state laws and regulatory controls that stabilized the loss of these important ecosystems.


Beth Lawrence

Forested wetlands are now facing new threats. The application of road salt is salinizing freshwater areas, affecting the ecosystem services these swamps provide. Beth Lawrence, an assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) with a joint appointment in UConn’s Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, is taking a closer look at the impact of salinization on forested wetlands. Forested wetlands represent over two-thirds of all wetlands in the state.

“The application of road salt and its effects on these swamps are an emerging issue of concern,” says Lawrence.

“The aim of my research is to better understand and quantify the numerous ecosystem services forested wetlands provide. My focus is on how plant community composition, carbon storage and carbon dynamics are affected by salinization. I’m also looking at the effects of experimental road salt applications. We know that wetlands benefit people in a variety of ways, but we do not have a good understanding of the capacity of these ecosystem services and how their functioning may be impacted across environmental gradients,” says Lawrence. (more…)

Meet graduate student Cora McGehee

Cora McGehee

Cora McGehee

Cora McGehee is a master’s degree student studying horticulture in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. She is researching the use of non-chemical options on plant pathogens in hydroponic systems.

Where did you study as an undergraduate?

I went to Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge.

What was your major?

My major was environmental horticulture and I minored in history.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school?

I was working with a horticultural crop pathologist during my last year at LSU and really enjoyed applied research. I was using biological fungicides to suppress plant pathogens, such as bacterial leaf spot and downy mildew, in the field. Then I found an applied research graduate student position at UConn working with suppressing plant pathogens in hydroponic leafy greens. It was a great fit and I’m glad I made the decision to come to UConn! (more…)

Consolidated major offers hands-on training and real-world experience

David Sotire taking soil moisture readings

David Sotire (’15) taking soil moisture readings.

The Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture has unified two of its undergraduate programs with the creation of the new Sustainable Plant and Soil Systems major. By combining the Horticulture major, which included a Sustainable Agriculture concentration, with the Turfgrass and Soil Science major, the realignment acknowledges the common attributes these fields share and offers students a versatile career path.

For the new major, students complete a set of required courses and then choose a concentration in Turfgrass Science, Environmental Horticulture or Sustainable Agriculture. These concentrations offer further options for students to specialize their education to align with their interests and career goals.

Turfgrass Science focuses on the management of golf courses, athletic fields and residential, commercial and municipal grounds. Environmental Horticulture involves the commercial production of ornamental plants, as in nurseries and greenhouses, and the landscape use and maintenance for both aesthetics and the essential ecosystem services they provide. The Sustainable Agriculture concentration focuses on the use of ecologically-sound production practices for the production of food crops. (more…)

Organization celebrates 25 years supporting state tree wardens

Tree warden logo colorConnecticut’s trees are a source of pride for its residents and they attract visitors with their picturesque beauty, lining downtowns and neighborhoods across the state. The aesthetic splendor of trees in the state are complemented by the multiple environmental benefits they offer. They reduce noise and air pollution, decrease the erosion of soil by slowing rainfall, supply wildlife habitat and provide shade. It is easy to appreciate these valuable natural resources without considering the important responsibility that rests with a municipal tree warden, who ensures the protection of these public assets.

The Tree Wardens’ Association of Connecticut (TWAC) celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary this spring, in observation of a quarter of a century of efforts to guide municipal tree wardens. A 501(c)(3) voluntary membership organization, TWAC was established by Senior Extension Educator Bob Ricard in 1992. As a member of UConn Extension, Ricard sought to provide training, assistance and education to tree wardens across the state and create social networking opportunities. TWAC held a gala event, with workshops and an award ceremony on April 28 at the Omni Hotel in New Haven to mark the occasion.

The stewardship of public trees was formalized in Connecticut General Assembly in 1901 with the passage of a state law requiring every town and city to appoint a tree warden. The appointed tree warden is responsible for the care and control of trees and shrubs in their municipality. The only exceptions are trees along state highways, which are overseen by the Commissioner of Transportation, and trees in parks that fall under the jurisdiction of a Park Commissioner. Tree wardens may appoint deputies to assist with carrying out the duties of the tree warden. The intention of the legislation was urban reforestation while ensuring public benefit and safety. (more…)

Scientists investigate effects of sea level rise on coastal wetlands

Coastal Wetlands - Hammonasset

Coastal wetlands in Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, CT.

If you are heading to the beach this summer, you are likely to pass by coastal wetlands on your way to the shore. These wetlands vary from bottomland hardwoods to marshes to seagrass beds but all occur at the intersection of land and sea, where fresh water from land meets saline tidal waters.

Coastal wetlands provide an array of ecosystem services. They protect shores from flooding, erosion and storm surge; provide habitat for wildlife; filter pollutants from water and sequester carbon. A group of researchers led by Assistant Professor Beth Lawrence of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) and UConn’s Center for Environmental Science and Engineering (CESE) is studying and quantifying the ecosystem services of carbon and nitrogen cycling to determine how these areas are responding to rising oceans.

The coast of the eastern United States is expected to experience elevated levels of sea level rise compared to the global average. Several factors, including water temperature, salinity, currents, the melting of glaciers and ice sheets and various geological and geographical elements, affect the rate of sea level rise. Scientists forecast global sea level rise in the range of 8 inches to 6.6 feet by 2100. The pace at which and amount the oceans rise will depend largely upon carbon and methane emissions that accelerate the melting of the planet’s ice and increase ocean temperatures. Heat causes water to expand, further escalating sea level rise. (more…)