Concluding remarks on using herbarium records to track plant population declines in Western Pennsylvania.

As the semester comes to an end, I have reflected on my time as a CURF recipient and the research process collectively. I began my project with the belief that research plans are concrete and have little alteration. However, as time progressed throughout the semester it became apparent that research is a dynamic process that requires constant adaptation. With these fluxes also comes the importance of communication with others. A personal experience I recall in my research this semester is having to communicate with multiple people, such as my principal investigator, other undergraduates, and experts within the ecology community, as we tried to understand and analyze the data that was collected over the semester. This was because we collected and compiled our data from herbarium records and iNaturalist, but were curious to see what trends others were noticing that we may have missed. We also had to figure out what the next steps would be regarding the project so we could observe and compare trends of plants that were sensitive to deer browsing and those that are not. Along with communicating with others comes the importance of independence and personal motivation. As we received data from herbarium records and online sources, I needed to do independent study and review scientific articles that are similar to my project and take note of any issues they experienced or what future intentions they have. With the fluxes of research, conclusions may also lead you in a new direction. I found this both interesting and exciting, as I realized that my work has just begun even though my initial goals have been fulfilled. 

 CURF helped me understand that research requires a holistic approach in order to attain a complete picture of what you are looking into; you cannot investigate one source and assume that is the absolute truth. Instead, a researcher must look into multiple sources and make observations then. CURF has also taught me that communication with others in research is crucial. Although independence is important, it is just as vital to work with others and effectively communicate your findings or questions with them. This provides a researcher with more opportunities to gain insight that they may lack and ensure that they do not have any blind spots in their work. I understood the value of communication when my CURF mentor brought me into contact with multiple experts in our field of study and help me get a better understanding of our findings, as well as where to take my work in the future.  

Now that CURF has ended, I plan on continuing my work in the upcoming year. I have collected data from various plants that are sensitive to deer browsing and began plotting statistical diagrams to graph their population trends over the decades. I will then continue my work and study the trends of other plants that are both sensitive to deer browsing and those that are avoided by deer. Following that I plan to see if there are any possible explanations for the trends observed. This fellowship has gotten me a grounding to work on and build upon in ecological research, and I am excited to continue on this path. 

A fellow undergraduate and I worked on creating histograms to represent the recorded population trends of several plant species. Viburnum lantanoides and Sambucus recemosa are both sensitive to deer browsing (being eaten by deer) while Lindera benzoin and Spiraea alba are not. Data comes from herbarium records with the x-axis representing time and the y-axis representing relative frequencies of the plants.

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