pristine reserach area draws scientists
By Fariss Samarrai
Wilbur in sandals will out-hike most people in boots. But along
the way hell
stop to smell the roses, so to speak. Wilbur has a passionate
love for nature and a seemingly infinite knowledge of the natural
history of the Southern Appalachians.
have an emotional attachment to the mountains, said Wilbur,
the director of U.Va.s Mountain
Lake Biological Station, a 650-acre research facility near
a mountaintop wilderness in southwestern Virginias Giles
has plenty of company at Mountain Lake.
from around the world come to the station each summer to search
for new answers to old questions about ecology and evolution.
The station brings together professors and students, both graduate
and undergraduate, in a pristine environment of diverse flora
and fauna for a variety of studies on birds, mammals, insects,
amphibians, fish, herbs and trees.
stations beautiful setting at 3,800 feet above sea level
is part college campus, part outdoor science lab and part mountain
getaway. The air is clear and cool, with daytime temperatures
averaging in the mid-70s in the summer. One visiting scientist
describes the area as a microcosm of the world at its best.
Wilbur and other Mountain Lake scientists study salamander
populations in enclosures that simulate the amphibians
setting and surrounding areas include mixed forests, streams,
meadows, Mountain Lake (the only natural lake in the southern
Appalachians), ponds, bogs and rocky ridges.
Lake Biological Station was established in 1929 with a build
it and they will come spirit, said Wilbur, the B.F.D. Runk
Professor of Biology
Sciences at U.Va. The station has been attracting top-rank
scientists ever since.
renowned researchers have visited the station, including Dian
Fossey, who gave a presentation on her gorilla research in 1981,
and ended up staying for several weeks.
and students conduct about 17 short- and long-term field and laboratory
investigations in evolution, plant and animal diversity, and conservation
biology. Of the 10 projects that are long-term, six have been
ongoing for 15 or more years. Scientists study a variety of natural
subjects, from insect-infected hemlocks, to bird populations,
to plant diseases. The station supports up to 100 students and
researchers at any given time during the summer.
include rustic and modern cabins, molecular laboratories, an aquatics
lab, classrooms, an auditorium, research plots, a library, an
herbarium, insect collections and a dining hall, where students
and professors eat together at large tables, discussing their
various projects. Researchers also have access to sites on nearby
private property and in the Jefferson National Forest. Station
grounds also include hiking trails, a swimming pond and a volleyball
by Fariss Samarrai
of the 17 projects being conducted at Mountain Lake examines
ways to stop the spread of the wooly hemlock adelgid, an insect
that is killing hemlock trees throughout the eastern U.S.
addition to research funding, the station receives $50,000 per
year from the National Science Foundation for 10 undergraduate
research scholarships. The students receive a stipend, free room
and board and research experience with a faculty mentor.
idea is to give undergraduate students a research experience similar
to that of graduate students, to involve them in field biology
early in their education, said Wilbur. Ten students in the
undergraduate research program have gone on to earn NSF fellowships
for graduate school.
Kelly, a fourth-year biology and environmental sciences major,
used a special two-week scholarship for a three-credit field entomology
course at the station this summer.
by Fariss Samarrai
at Mountain Lake use specially designed bags to isolate adelgid-infested
hemlock branches, allowing them to monitor the effectiveness
of a beetle that feeds on the adelgid.
was great to get an intensive hands-on field experience,
she said. Our class was incredibly busy from the time we
got up until the time we went to bed. It was great to be out in
the woods learning, living in the cabins, being a part of a community
her time at the station, Kelly took stream and lake samples, visited
several terrestrial habitats, and learned to identify numerous
insects. The class was very demanding, she said. We
had to write reports and present them to the faculty and other
students. It was an opportunity to learn to think like a scientist,
to do what I love.
also found some leisure time for hikes, including an early morning
trek to a mountaintop to catch a golden sunrise over a fog-filled
Lake is a lot better than a walled-in classroom, she said.
her mentor, Henry Wilbur, Catherine Kelly is developing an emotional
attachment to the mountains.