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Art Installation? Or Research Project?

Admit it. You want to know what's going on in this photo, right? (Click to enlarge.) Photo credit: Nick Haddad
Admit it. You want to know what’s going on in this photo, right? (Click to enlarge.) Photo credit: Nick Haddad

Sometimes science presents us with pretty fantastic images. When I saw this photo, from a research team led by NC State’s Nick Haddad, I had to find out what these students were doing. Here’s his explanation:

“Understanding dispersal is difficult. Understanding dispersal of little things, like small insects or seeds, is nearly impossible. This photo is a monument to the science of dispersal. The Corridor Research group is employing novel technologies to track dispersal of seeds. Their research aims to solve a needle in the haystack problem.  There are millions of tiny seeds. How do you track the one or few that disperse long distances? The photo shows a subset of the 4,000 seed traps that are being used to capture dispersing seeds. We limit the size of the haystack by elevating the traps, thus eliminating the seeds that fall to the ground. We find the needle by tagging plants and seeds in one part of a wildlife corridor with an uncommon form of nitrogen. To determine how far those seeds are dispersed, we collect hundreds of seeds from the traps, grind them up together, and then use models to determine what fraction of seeds were marked with the nitrogen tags. In this way, we are able to observe seeds dispersing long distances, and to test how approaches to landscape conservation can increase seed dispersal in landscapes where habitat has been lost, like landscape corridors.” (If you’re curious, here’s what a landscape corridor looks like.)

The people in the photo have all worked in Haddad’s research group: Kellen Paine, John Kronenberger, Mike Epperly, and Sonum Nerurkar.

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