Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Crevice Communities
What are Crevice Communities? Why should we study them?
Crevice communities are small pockets of vegetation that are uniquely adapted to thrive in the harsh conditions of the rocky terrain of exposed mountain summits. They find footing in thin soil in the crevices that are protected from the strong winds. These fragile plant communities grow slowly and mature as low-lying shrub and forb communities. These exposed mountain top communities tend to be small and rare and, because of their unique growing conditions, differ greatly from those found elsewhere in southern New Hampshire.
The size and fragility of crevice communities make them extremely susceptible to human disturbance. With over 100,000 visitors to Mount Monadnock each year, human foot traffic is a real threat to their existence. Additionally, as the climate continues to change as a result of human activity, so do the conditions on top of the mountain. By monitoring these communities through time we will be able to better understand the impact of human disturbance and the changing climate on the ecology of the mountain. MERE is currently monitoring five crevice communities on Mount Monadnock to observe the impact of human disturbance from foot traffic and climate change.
The Adopt-a-Crevice Community (AACC) program allows local high school students to engage in real ecological research as part of their own classroom education. Students get the full experience of what it might feel like to be a field ecologist. After a day studying the sampling protocols and practicing orienteering skills at their school, students begin their field study with a trek to the top of Mount Monadnock. Once on the mountain, students identify individual species, measure soil depth, and analyze vegetation coverage. After their time in the field, students compare their data to that of previous classes, and present and discuss their findings. By participating in the Adopt-a-Crevice Community project, students engage in scientific inquiry, learn ecological monitoring skills, practice data collection and analysis, and become familiar with local mountain ecology.
The Educational Goals of MERE include getting the community involved in studying Monadnock. That’s why MERE is collaborating with the AP Environmental Studies (APES) students at Keene High. By working with APES students, we are able to establish permanent plots that the students will be able to return to year after year to monitor and document changes in the communities. Working with these students on this project will assist them in learning research and sampling methods, while also gaining the ability to accurately monitor the crevice communities of Monadnock.
So far, we have made our pioneer trip up the mountain with the APES students. In September of 2008, Peter Palmiotto of Antioch University New England, four Antioch graduate students, two Keene High Teachers, and over two full classes of students climbed Monadnock with the goal of testing their sampling methods. Prior to the trip, the students had worked with MERE graduate students and their teacher, Marshall Davenson, to create a plan on how to measure and monitor the crevice communities. The goal of this trip was not to establish permanent plots, but to test their sampling methods and get a feel for the experiment. Although the students were faced with many tough challenges, they were able to leave the mountain that day knowing some of the challenges of conducting field research and ideas on how to improve their methods in order to set up permanent plots in the future.