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Lauren Alteio

Harvard Forest Program
Posted October 2012

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An interest in forest biology and a strong academic background landed an ESF student in the Harvard Forest for the summer of 2012 researching climate change. Lauren Alteio, a junior environmental biology major, participated in the Harvard Forest Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program in ecology at the biology station in Petersham, Mass.

Alteio, of Pine Bush, N.Y., applied to the program with encouragement from Dr. Gregory McGee of ESF's Department of Environmental and Forest Biology. Alteio's team researched the effect of climate change on enzymes in soil to determine if microbial populations change because of climate. They found soil microbes are active longer due to increases in average temperatures. This means the microbes will produce more carbon, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, for a longer portion of the year.

The team's findings are new and have an impact on the future of climate change and soil interaction studies, Alteio said.

"The most exciting thing about being a part of the program is the information that my team collected was so cutting edge," Alteio said. "It's information professional scientists in the field have not even explored yet."

Only five percent of those who applied were accepted into the program. Alteio was one of 31 students who lived and worked at the biological station. The program paid for her travel, housing and meals for the 11-week session.

In addition to working on the group project, participants had time each day to work on individual research projects. Alteio's research focused on the enzyme activity of soil microbes in response to soil warming in controlled plots. Findings were presented at a professional research symposium at the program's end.

"It was a really great experience to share my research project and get the practice of presenting to peers," she said.

Alteio met students from all over the country from schools such as Harvard, Columbia and Villanova. On weekends, they had time for recreational pursuits such as skydiving and backpacking in the Green Mountains. The bonds they formed were strong enough that she expects to keep in touch with the students and faculty she met. "We became a family," she said.

"I feel ESF really prepared me well for this experience and I would recommend it to anyone," Alteio said.

ESF Students Make their Mark