How Maine’s Red Spruce Forests are Fighting for Survival

Philip Kiefer ’18, a member of the podcasting student team that produces The Bowdoin Commons, has made an audio story about the honors project of his friend Hanna Baldecchi ’18, who is researching the Eastern dwarf mistletoe. This mistletoe is a tiny parasitic plant that lives on the branches of spruce trees, stealing nutrients from and slowly killing its hosts.

With his recorder, Kiefer accompanied biology major Hanna Baldecchi ’18 on one of her data-collecting trips to the Maine island of Isleboro this winter. Driving up the coast and walking through the woods, Baldecchi explained her research into the mystery of why the mistletoe is affecting red and white spruces differently. The red spruce appears to be better at protecting itself from the mistletoe’s threat, but scientists are not sure why.

“She is looking at something really cool. She is studying a predator-prey relationship in the forests of Maine. But not like wolves and deer or anything,” Kiefer remarks early in his podcast. “The predator she is looking at is a plant, mistletoe, and the prey is the forest itself. When Hanna looks at the trees she doesn’t see a peaceful place; instead she sees a bunch of plants fighting for their lives.”

In his podcast, Kiefer enlivens the fatal, and quiet, process of the mistletoe’s scourge on white spruce trees, and the curious way red spruces are managing to defend themselves from what should be a mortal enemy. Along with audio effects, and some funny back-and-forth between him and Baldecchi, he includes original music by Sam Kyzivat ’18.

One thought on “How Maine’s Red Spruce Forests are Fighting for Survival

  1. Jim Kravitz

    Fantastic story Hanna and Philip. I love the mistletoe perspective. Self-pruning is a cool mechanism for survival and conservation. This story makes me want to look into it more. And the unknown communication in the forest! Keep up the great work bringing the wonder of the natural word to the masses.

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