Biology News

Biology Professor Awarded Grant for Beech Tree Research

May 20, 2010
The grant from VFIC will expand Ron Gettinger’s multi-year study of the patterns of growth and nut production in American beech trees

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A Randolph College biology professor has received a grant from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) that will help fund research on beech trees.

Ron Gettinger, biology professor and assistant dean, received the grant for his project, “Masting Behavior in American Beech Trees? Testing Evolutionary Hypothesis.”

Gettinger’s research involves a multi-year study of the patterns of growth and nut production in American beech trees. Many species of nut-bearing trees, including beech and their oak relatives, produce annual crops that vary tremendously in magnitude from year to year. Such synchronized, boom-or-bust production can have obvious and immediate impact on the population dynamics of a variety of wildlife species that depend on the nuts as dietary staples.

“Less obvious are the costs and benefits of such production on the trees themselves,” Gettinger said. “This is where my research is focused.”

Synchronized production of large crops of nuts would seem to be tremendously beneficial if it resulted in more new beech trees. However, more research and monitoring must be done long-term to answer other important questions. Gettinger hopes to address issues such as what is the benefit if it only results in more nuts available to be eaten by wildlife or destroyed by insects? Could smaller nut crops actually result in lower predation? Could beech trees benefit from reduced energy investments in reproduction by channeling energy instead into growth, thus enhancing prospects for future nut production?

“My Mednick Fellowship funds will help me establish study sites for the longer-term monitoring of growth and reproduction necessary in order to address these and myriad other questions significant to the ecology of beech woodlands,” he said.



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