Sadie Whitman ‘22
Majors: Environmental Science, French and Francophone Studies
Biography: Sadie is a senior majoring in Environmental Science with a secondary major in French and Francophone Studies. She is also President of the Environmental Club and is excited to present her first research project alongside Dr. Robinson.
Title of Research: The Decline of Castanea Pollen
Mentor: Dr. Guy Robinson, Department of Natural Sciences
Abstract: Castanea dentata, the American Chestnut, once occupied a range of 800,000 square kilometers in eastern North America. A dominant tree throughout the Appalachian Range and reaching up to Maine and Southern Ontario, it held a central position in regional economy, culture, and ecology. An accidentally introduced pathogen causing Chestnut Blight was first noticed in 1904 on trees near Fordham Road, Bronx, New York. Today the species is almost extinct; stumps of Chestnut continue to sprout in the eastern forests but do not survive to produce flowers. Fossil Castanea pollen from lake and wetland cores in lower New York State show a decline by the early to mid-Twentieth Century. Currently, there are several models to propose the reintroduction of a genetically modified or crossbred American Chestnuts, although none are yet confirmed. Using pollen records archived in the Neotoma Paleoecology Database, we propose first that the pre-1900 geographic distribution of Castanea pollen will correspond to the historical range of the American Chestnut. Secondly, we propose that the decline of Castanea pollen occurred first in sites closest to New York City. Regarding our first proposal, we find that in general, fossil pollen records do reflect the historical range of the tree, with some notable exceptions. And so far, we have found that the timing and geographic pattern of pollen decline do not confirm an epicenter of the blight in New York City.