Chad Zirbel is a plant ecologist doing research at the University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in East Bethel, Minn. Zirbel is studying bison grazing and its impact on fires on oak savanna.

 

Reading

Whatever I can find about historical records of bison in Minnesota. It’s interesting to think about how bison grazing now may be different from how they grazed when they had huge areas to roam. How might this change the effect they have on the ecosystem? I’ve also been reading about how bison grazing could impact different life stages of oak trees. Everything from how grazing might affect where small mammals and birds cache acorns to how grazing can alter the survival of oak saplings by reducing fire temperature or decreasing competition for resources between oak seedlings and the grasses that bison eat. For fun, I’m rereading parts of Aldo Leopold’s “Sand County Almanac,” which I do every summer. This book is a good reminder to get outside and experience seasonal changes in plants and wildlife throughout the year as well as to notice things I normally wouldn’t.

Following

I use Twitter professionally to keep up with what is being published and what people are working on. There are a lot of great scientists on Twitter for both scientists and nonscientists to follow. I’m also following groups working on climate change solutions. The “doom-and-gloom” scenarios often get the most attention but can be as harmful as climate change denial. It’s encouraging to know there are many plausible solutions — they just need to be enacted.

Watching

I’ve been watching videos on landscape and macro photography. I enjoy the perspective a macro shot can give you of a tiny flower or insect. Macro photography forces me to slow down and look at parts of the world I would normally gloss over. I also enjoy landscape photography, especially the challenge of capturing a unique perspective of iconic landscapes that have been seen and photographed by thousands of people.

Listening

Bird songs and calls for the Canadian Rockies. I’m going on a 10-day backpacking trip to Banff National Park and need to brush up on my western bird species. I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of the bison herd that was released into Banff last year, too.

Doing

We are now in the second year of having bison at Cedar Creek. Last spring we planted nearly 700 oak trees within the bison enclosure to study how bison grazing interacts with prescribed burning to affect oak recruitment. This year, we are assessing how last year’s grazing affected the prescribed fires this spring and how well our oak seedlings survived the fires. We are also studying plant roots this summer. In grasslands, which die back each winter, much of the plant biomass is below ground. We are measuring how quickly plants’ roots grow in areas where the bison are grazing compared to where they are not. This will help us understand how plants allocate resources when they are being grazed. The gazebo for bison-viewing is open from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays in the summer. Learn more at cedarcreek.umn.edu/conservation/bison.