This weekend marks the 5th annual Paleoenvironmental Lab pollen trap collection at Konza Prairie!
For the last five years, Kendra has managed 28 pollen traps located throughout Konza. Tauber traps (see diagram below) are made from PVC pipe and are buried flush with the ground, such that only the top of the trap is visible. The traps have a small opening at the top through which pollen can enter throughout the season. The pollen is stored in the underground bucket or jar until your resident field scientist comes to dig up the track and rinse out its contents. In addition to capturing pollen, traps at Konza also collect charcoal deposited when plots are burned in the spring. The pollen and charcoal data can then be coupled to local vegetation surveys and fire histories to assess the degree to which pollen and charcoal records accurately reflect local species composition and disturbance history.
The process of ‘collecting’ the traps consists of 1) finding the trap, which is by far the most difficult and time consuming considering they are buried flush with the ground in waist-high prairie grasses. Once found, all you have to do is 2) pull the trap out of the ground, 3) rinse it out and collect the water (full of pollen and charcoal, as well as dirt, plant parts, and the occasional dead bug), and 4) replace the trap in the ground, along with some thymol to keep the bugs out.
This year, we had a large crew, including paleoenvironmental lab members Scott McConaghy, Kyleen Kelly, Julie Commerford, and yours truly, and assisted by honorary lab members Ian Howard, Claire Ruffing, Brent Campbell, and a friend of Julie’s who drove down from Minnesota just to learn the pollen collecting process! I also got some help from my K-State First mentee Brittney Houck, who proved to be the world’s most patient field assistant while I set out to prove that education level is in no way correlated with ability to read and interpret GPS devices.
On Thursday, Brittney and I collected four traps along the bison loop (which, as its name implies, is the region in which bison graze the prairie). While looking for the first trap, we noticed a lone male who was clearly interested in our presence, but who kept a reasonably safe distance. While driving to the next trap, we stopped to take a picture of a rather lovely fall prairie view and noticed the same bison not far behind us. Brittney got a particularly nice photo of him, then we went to find the next trap. While collecting the second trap, the same bison came wandering up the road and hovered nearby, slowly getting closer and closer until we finished and took off (rather hastily) to the truck. It is unclear to me if he was just curious, or felt we were intruding on his space. Regardless, the other two traps on our list were outside the bison loop, and so he was unable to follow us through the gates.
On Friday, Scott, Julie and I set out for six more traps along the non-bison portions of the prairie. Scott dropped us off and took off to grab a couple himself. Julie and I utterly failed to find the first trap. She was standing in the EXACT GPS location of the trap and we still could not find it. We came back later with Scott and did find it – the GPS location had been slightly off, so it was not user error as we had suspected 🙂 Other than that, all six traps went fairly smoothly!
Today, the rest of the crew is out finishing up the last 9 or 10 traps. Then, Scott will painstakingly filter each traps contents (usually about half of a gallon jug) to remove all the dirt, plant parts, and other junk. After the contents are filtered, we can analyze the remaining pollen and charcoal from each trap, to incorporate into the larger multi-year data set!