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Biology Professor Helps Restore American Chestnut Tree

May 14, 2014

Laura Lemire
Communications and Marketing
(603) 641-7242

Biology Professor Eric Berry is working on re-introducing a blight-resistant chestnut tree into North AmericaAlthough the academic year has concluded, many faculty members continue their research into the summer, including Saint Anselm biology professor Eric Berry, who is working on a long-term project to re-introduce a blight-resistant chestnut tree into North America.

For the last three years, Berry, a plant ecologist, has monitored the germination, growth, mortality, and reproduction of a specific kind of American Chestnut. The B3F3, as it is called, is thought to be the best candidate for re-introduction because it is blight resistant.

Research in the Field and the Lab
Berry's research is at an orchard in Hollis, N.H., which is breeding the blight-resistant tree as well as other genotypes. This summer, two Saint Anselm seniors, Kaitlyn Stazinski and Kristen Vigneau, are assisting Berry with his work as part of their senior research course. They'll conduct fieldwork in the orchard this summer and complete the rest of the work during the next academic year.

Fieldwork involves collecting mortality, growth, and development data as well as assisting with hand-pollination during the flowering season. Hand-pollination allows researchers to control the seeds' genetics, thereby maintaining the current breed.

Berry, Stazinski, and Vigneau will then conduct data analysis, research literature, and prepare their results.

Research Objectives
Berry hopes his research will determine if there are differences among the types of trees growing in the orchard. In studying growth, survival, and the timing of their development, he's also hoping to learn more about how the trees are affected by the environmental conditions in southern New Hampshire.

He got involved in the research because of his interest in plant conservation and because he finds the trees so interesting. "It was once the most dominant hardwood in North American forests. I can only imagine what a loss it was to these forests to have the trees die," said Berry.

"It is exciting to think that within my generation we can make such big advances in the restoration of this important species to our forests."

The American Chestnut was wiped out of the forests of North America around the turn of the century due to an invasive fungal blight. Berry's research is through the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF).

In addition, Berry is studying the Round-Leaved Orchid at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in northern New Hampshire as well as the population status of the endangered New England wildflower Northern Wild Senna (Senna Hebecarpa), which only grows along the Souhegan River in Amherst, N.H.