Campus as Lab: Tracking campus ecology

By Kevin McElwee

Artemis Eyster spends more time than most students on the wooded paths near campus where Albert Einstein once cleared his mind.

The Class of 2019 undergraduate, named after the Greek goddess of the wilderness, created a new environmental research course for fellow students in which she and her classmates analyzed the ecology of local areas. They explored areas vulnerable to ecological harm as part of Princeton’s Campus as Lab program, which helps faculty and students study real-world environmental issues with the University as a testing ground.

Central New Jersey’s mix of small towns, suburbs, farms and nature preserves makes it an ideal place to explore the impact of human activity on the environment.

“If the University wants to make informed decisions based on the natural environment,” Eyster said, “it’s important that they have a system of monitoring these areas.”

Adam Maloof, an associate professor of geosciences, advised the class on an array of sensors and techniques. From aerial photos taken over the past century, the students tracked Princeton’s environmental conditions over time. They measured traffic, light pollution, tree counts, plant and animal diversity, and the amount of developed land. They connected those metrics to the health of the University’s century-old Lake Carnegie, a popular recreation area.

Eyster’s class is one of several projects for the Campus as Lab initiative, which is organized through the Office of Sustainability and supported by the High Meadows Foundation Sustainability Fund.

Eyster ultimately used what she learned to inform her junior-year independent work, and this past summer, she traveled to Panama to study the role of woody vines in forest succession.

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