December 16, 2017

Permanent Forest Plot Project (PFPP) Curriculum Breakout Session Outline

Permanent Forest Plot Project (PFPP) Curriculum Breakout Session Outline
Discussion Questions
1. What are the main challenges that you see for this project to be part of your laboratory teaching exercises?
2. How does this project become multi-site/regional/continental as you teach it?
3. How do we get students to interact across institutions?
4. How do we do data analysis that emphasizes the multi-site/regional/ continental scale?
5. How do we assess student learning and the effectiveness of the project?
6. Are you familiar with other potential sources of data and/or projects that can complement existing EREN projects?
Lead Scientists: Karen Kuers, Erin Lindquist, Jerald Dosch, Kathleen LoGiudice, Jose-Luis Machado, Kathleen Shea, and Jeffrey Simmons
Potential Main Ecological Questions*:
1. How much carbon dioxide do different forest types sequester and how does it change over time?
2. How is terrestrial carbon influenced by abiotic (e.g., climate, soils physical and chemical properties) variables?
3. How different are native plants versus non-native plants at sequestering carbon?
4. What is the relationship between species richness/diversity and forest productivity?
Potential Secondary Ecological Questions*:
1. What are the unknowns and uncertainties of calculating aboveground productivity?
2. What is the contribution of urban and/or suburban forests to the mitigation of elevated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in relation to other forests?
*Note that these are suggested questions only. Please see the Student Learning Outcomes section B (Hypothesis Formulation and Testing) for additional questions and the option for students to generate their own questions.

Ecological Content: Forest ecology, natural history, plant physiology and growth, carbon storage, diversity, scaling (allometry), plant identification.
● The data generated from this activity can be used in your curriculum without additional sources of data.
● The data generated from this activity can be uploaded to EREN’s website and add a significant contribution to the Permanent Forest Plot Project’s database.
● The data from this activity will work with data from other EREN sites.

● Minimum number of three-hour labs required for this activity is one.
● The optimal number of three-hour labs for fully implementing this activity is two (one for data collection, and one for data analysis) or three (one additional lab for paper proofreading or project presentations).

Students’ skills:
What scientific and mathematical background is needed for students to participate in this activity?
1. Understanding of photosynthesis, respiration, plant growth and carbon cycle
2. Familiarity with spreadsheets and data management.

What scientific and mathematical background for students is optional depending on activities chosen?
1. Community ecology: succession, species diversity indices, spatial heterogeneity of resources, niches and species coexistence
2. Statistical: regression analysis, two groups comparisons, equation fitting, log transformations

Student Learning Outcomes:

A. Field Work and Data Entry:

Students will learn how to:
● set up a permanent forest plot
● describe and measure topographic variables
● map (optional), identify (optional), and measure trees at diameter-at-breast-height (dbh)
● manage data through data entry and proofreading
● calculate biomass and carbon using allometric growth equations (optional)
● collect soil data (optional)
● use internet resources for climate, soil, and forest area parameters

B. Hypothesis Formulation and Testing:

Guided Approach: Students will collect data directed at answering a specific question set by the instructor. The instructor may choose from EREN’s list (
or select one based on individual research interests or EREN interests for comparative studies across sites.

Open-ended Approach: Students will generate their own questions and hypotheses of interest using the dataset they generate and/or from the larger shared data set from multiple sites. This approach is encouraged for upper-level students in smaller classes.

C. Student Reporting and Assessment:
Depending on the instructor’s interests and time reserved for the project students may develop and execute an oral presentation and/or write a scientific paper. In either assignment students will:
● synthesize and interpret a literature review
● analyze data using descriptive and/or inferential statistics
● design and interpret tables and figures
● interpret their data and contrast it to other studies’ data or findings
● discuss, share, and complete an assignment with peers and assess each other’s contributions and effort in a group project

Transferability: Instructors can use the permanent plot and data generated in class for independent research endeavors with students and other participating EREN faculty. Future classes can re-measure plots, set up new plots, or contrast their site data to other participating EREN sites using the online databases.
Students Instructions

Students and faculty should use the research protocols available on the EREN website:

For non-field activities such as data analysis and reporting, faculty are encouraged to develop their own set of instructions using the information provided under Faculty Notes to fit their individual courses.

Faculty Notes
For the Field Protocol faculty should download:
For data analysis and review, student assignments, and group work faculty should refer to the Teacher Resources available at:

Challenges to anticipate and solve:
Here, we will provide a list of the principal challenges that faculty and students encounter as they implement this experiment. We will provide potential solutions to common challenges. This section will be completed in the near future once we have received feedback from our users. We encourage you to submit your feedback to the Lead Scientists.

Data Uploads and Downloads
For more information on the EREN PFPP database please go to: . On this page you will learn how to gain access to the database and upload and download data. Registration is required and users who download data will be asked to complete a form indicating the intended use of the data.

Publication Guidelines
Should you wish to use EREN PFPP data in a publication, please check the online Authorship guidelines posted on the EREN website (, and contact one of the PFPP Lead Scientists.

Teaching Resources:
1. Data Assurance and Quality Control (Main author: Kathleen LoGiudice, Union College): PFPP Data Quality Assurance Instructions and Data Quality Assurance Example
2. Suggested Student Assignments and Instructor Rubrics (Main authors: Erin Lindquist, Meredith College and Jerald Dosch, Macalester College): PFPP Student Assignments and PFPP Grading Rubric
3. Group Work Ground Rules and Contract (Main author: Jerald Dosch, Macalester College): PFPP Group Work Ground Rules and Contract
4. Group Work Evaluations (Main author: Jerald Dosch, Macalester College): PFPP Group Work Evaluation

The Permanent Forest Plot Project (PFPP) of the Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN) is supported by a Research Coordination Network (RCN) grant from the National Science Foundation. The lead scientists would like to thank the Leadership Working Group and Founders of EREN for their support, advice, and comments during the development of this project. We thank Paul Overvoorde, Macalester College, for allowing us to tailor the Group Work Ground Rules and Contract after his instructional materials. We would also like to thank our numerous science education mentors who helped us further develop our teaching practices. Some of these practices are included in this activity.