Ongoing Research Projects at Merry Lea

The ecosystem diversity at Merry Lea makes it an excellent location for a wide variety of field studies.

Several new research projects are in process, and a variety of long term research studies are also based here.  Many of these are collaborations with other people and organizations. See below to learn more or contact Dr. Jonathon Schramm at or at (260) 799-5869.

Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) at Merry Lea

Since 2002 Merry Lea has banded birds as part of a nationwide effort to collect data under the MAPS program sponsored by the Institute for Bird Populations. Carol Good-Elliott runs the banding station from late May through the beginning of August, with the help of field assistants. Birds are trapped with mist nets and then carefully extracted from it. Researchers examine the birds and record a wide range of data including sex, breeding status, wing length, weight, and bird age. They record the band numbers of birds that were banded previously and give birds without bands a band with a unique number.


Male cardinal during bird banding.

The Tallgrass Prairie Project

In the summer and fall of 2008, environmental science students at Goshen College helped initiate a project which examines the effect of the browsing of white-tailed deer on forbs in a restored tallgrass prairie at Merry Lea.

Researchers erected deer exclosures that were about eight feet tall and surrounded two 20 m X 20 m plots in Luckey’s Prairie in the spring of 2008. Since then, they have collected cover and herbivory data to quantify which forbs deer prefer as forage. Dr. Ryan Sensenig oversees this project.

Student researchers cataloging forbs.

Student researchers cataloging forbs.

Gleason Moss Collection

The Gleason Moss Collection is a photographic study of moss specimens that represent a collection of approximately 10,000 species. The purpose of this research project is to make photos of the preserved moss specimens available to interested scientists, naturalists and students as an educational tool. The moss collection is housed on the Goshen College campus. The photo shows gametophytes of Drepanocladus uncinatus.

Moss close-up

Gametophytes of Drepanocladus uncinatus

American Chestnut Breeding for Blight Resistance

The American chestnut is a native tree that was commonly found in the Eastern Deciduous Forest at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was virtually exterminated by the early 1950’s due to a stem fungus blight accidentally introduced from northern China. Since that time, plant geneticists have been working to breed a tree that is blight resistant so that it can be reintroduced back into its native range. This is a joint project involving Bill Minter, director of land management at Merry Lea, the Indiana Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation and Purdue University Hardwood Tree Improvement Center .

Chestnut bur opening.

The opening bur of a 15/16 pure American chestnut.

Lindsey Forest Growth Transects

In 1972, Dr. Alton Lindsey of Purdue University established permanent plots in the oak-hickory forest on the west side of Merry Lea. He measured the diameter of every tree in each plot. The surface area in a cross section of each tree could then be determined. This measurement is known as the basal area, and the total area of all the trees along the line will give an aggregate, basal area for the growth in that location.

This process is repeated every ten years. The Lindsey study is the longest study of this type in Indiana. Analysis of the data may show whether factors such as weather patterns or levels of air pollution are affecting growth in the forest. Also, increased deer populations and the invasion of garlic mustard have changed the ecological landscape in our region since the study began. Information from previous decades may shed light on the impact of these more recent changes.