Chosen as one of only four students from across the United States, Quincey Johnson ’16 is spending five weeks in Sardinia, Italy this summer conducting research as part of an International Research Experience for Students (IRES). Her research, which is currently underway, focuses on the ecosystem services provided by Mediterranean Silvo-Arable-Pastoral Ecosystems.
HWS Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Kristen Brubaker is spending two and a half weeks in Sardinia with Johnson to contribute to the research. The experience is funded by an NSF grant awarded to Penn State professors Armen Kemanian and Laura Leites, and runs in collaboration with scientists from the University of Sassari. Johnson, an environmental studies major, is also working under the guidance of Leites while collaborating with Giovanna Seddaiu from the University of Sassari.
“Quincey is gaining critical experience in both the research process and international collaborations,” Brubaker says. “She has been working closely with top researchers in the field, from both Penn State and the University of Sassari, and has had the chance to network with other students from both the United States and Italy.”
Johnson says that collaborating with her Italian colleagues is one of her favorite parts of the research, which consists of both collecting fieldwork and analyzing data in the lab. On a typical day working in the field at the Berchidda Long Term Observatory in northeastern Sardinia, Johnson collects tree measurements which are later used to calculate carbon storage in the trees. Her fieldwork is focused on calculating the aboveground carbon sequestration by cork oak forests across varying land use types to compare how land use change through management intensification, such as livestock grazing and tillage, or abandonment affects biomass stocks.
In the lab, she analyzes the results of her fieldwork which will be included in a final report and poster that each student participating in the research experience is required to complete.
Ultimately, Johnson hopes that her research will demonstrate the importance of the cork oak pasture systems to support farmers and maintain the trees as the forests may be compromised under current management practices and projected climate changes.
Brubaker, who encouraged Johnson to apply for the IRES USA-Italy program, is working on spatial aspects of the research, using her background in GIS/Remote sensing to help set up the field sampling protocol and represent the data spatially.
“By quantifying rates of carbon storage across different land uses, we will have data that help to promote sustainable agriculture and silvo-pastural systems that are important both ecologically and culturally to the people of Sardinia,” says Brubaker.
Not only is Brubaker working with Johnson on her research in Sardinia, but Johnson also says that Brubaker has been an instrumental figure in fostering her interest in environmental studies and forestry research throughout her time at HWS. Through Brubaker’s Advanced GIS course and her mentorship as Johnson’s Honors adviser, Johnson says she’s gained skills essential not only to her internship this summer, but for whatever environmental path she chooses to take.
“The classes ‘Biology of Plants’ with Professor Newell and ‘Advanced GIS’ with Professor Brubaker have taught me how to read and analyze scientific papers,” Johnson says. “Pursuing Honors with Professor Brubaker has provided me with additional research experience and the opportunity to combine different skills I’ve learned to complete my project.”
Johnson’s Honors project, “Comparing Aboveground Carbon Budgets Across Mixed Deciduous Forests with Varying Bedrock Using LiDAR and Remote Sensing in Central Pennsylvania,” will allow her to continue a similar line of research during her senior year. Her project is focused on estimating carbon sequestration in two forests with varying bedrock to see how that may affect the carbon stocks and vegetation. She began the project in the spring and will complete it in spring 2016.
Johnson believes studying abroad in Mendoza, Argentina last fall with Professor of Economics Scott McKinney P’13 helped her to gain the confidence needed to study and travel in a foreign country. Last summer, she participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates at Penn State, which she also says strengthened her interest in the field of forestry research.
This project was funded through NSF project No. 1358189.