Most people, researchers included, don’t give much thought to mosses that live by the sides of the road. However, this overlooked habitat is the focus of the research of Eddie Richter ’12. After starting to work with Dr. Karl McKnight of the biology department, Richter did a St. Lawrence Fellowship last summer and collected 400 packets of moss that he then identified. Now, he is finishing work on an Honors Project about the ecology of these roadside mosses.
The Hill News (HN): First, what kind of research are you doing?
Eddie Richter (ER): I’m looking at the species distribution of roadside mosses and seeing how the species change in relation to road type and distance from the road edge. The moss that grow there are not studied very much at all because they’re not really moss that people like studying since they’re really small and not as charismatic as some of the other moss. That’s kind of what led me into it.
HN: Are you working with anyone else on this project?
ER: No, it’s just me. My adviser, Karl McKnight, started me on this project and he had a student working with another project last year, but he was working on something else.
HN: Where did you first get the idea to do this?
ER: Well, it’s kind of a funny story because I approached Karl at the end of my sophomore year and asked him what kind of research I could do with him. He introduced me to moss and he said, “Well, I’ve studied mosses in the forest and I’m curious about disturbed soil mosses.” So that’s what led me to disturbed soil mosses, and then when I got my fellowship this past summer, we kind of narrowed it down to roadside moss and looked to define what disturbance was in a way that we could measure it. Roads presented a pretty common area of disturbance that we could use that could be found readily.
HN: What has been the most interesting part of your research so far?
ER: There’s two parts, I would say. The data collection was a lot of fun and really interesting because I was working right next to the road edge, so I’d pull my car over and just stop there. I think about five or six different people over the course of the summer came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I feel like they thought I was crazy or whatever, but it was kind of neat to have that interaction with people and just to talk with them. They were like, “What are you doing on Saturday morning when it’s like 80 degrees out on the side of the road?” So that’s been fun. I’ve also identified all of the moss I collected this summer, so now I’m correlating that with the soil chemistry data that I’ve collected as well. Now I’m seeing where species relationships are and what the patterns are as far as where the moss are growing.
HN: What are the goals of your research?
ER: One overall goal is to define disturbed soil moss because they’re relatively unsteady. People mention disturbed soil mosses but there hasn’t been any work done on it so by doing this, I can contribute to the overall picture of moss ecology. I’m also interested in looking at the impacts of the pollution that the road has on the environment directly next to the road and seeing if moss, which can kind of grow anywhere, shows certain trends, as far as certain moss that are found closer to the road or father away from the road and what types of chemistry and nutrients they’re growing on.
HN: What opportunities have you had as a result of your project?
ER: I’ve learned how to write grant proposals because I had to apply for like $6,000 worth of funding for soil chemical testing. I hadn’t really done that before, so I had to do a lot of that last semester. I’m going to a couple different conferences in the next couple of weeks so that’ll be another avenue because conferences outside of St. Lawrence are semi-professional. Those will be fun, I think. And I’m hoping to get this paper published if I can get enough work done in the next couple of months. Learning how to write a publishable paper and all the work that goes into that was pretty unique. A lot of people do papers on a smaller scale, and this is actually applying it to something that could actually get published.
HN: Do you intend to continue this work after you graduate?
ER: Well, I’ll continue this project until it’s published because I’ve spent enough time on it that I don’t want to just let it fall to the wayside. I could see myself using it in graduate school to be able to go to a program and tell them, “I know about moss, I could contribute to your research team.” But I’m more of a general ecologist, just focusing on one thing, the moss, as a way to study ecology.
HN: What advice would you give other students who are interested in doing research here?
ER: Start early. If you can during sophomore year, go to a professor and just ask them if they’re doing research and what you could do to help them. Junior year, you can actually get credit for doing research, which is really nice because then you can focus on it, and not feel like you have to do all of your other work and do research on top of that. Just be proactive about it, because professors want to help you, but since it’s kind of their research, you have to show them that you’re going to actually help them rather than just slow them down.