Research & Academics

Research by Williams faculty and students in such disciplines as biology, chemistry, environmental science, geology, and history takes advantage of several unique aspects of Hopkins Forest: ease of access; variety of habitats and terrain; on-site wet and dry laboratories; long-term records of vegetation change and land-use from the permanent plot system; long-term hydrology, meteorology and water chemistry datasets; and specialized research structures such as the canopy walkway. Thirty years of faculty and student research has produced a reserve of literature from HMF.
Short description of some HMF studies:

Forest Vegetation Monitoring

In the mid-1930’s, the U.S. Forest Service established a system of 1/4 acre permanent plots where they identified and measured all forest vegetation more than 0.5″ in diameter, as well as the shrubs and the herbaceous layer. Since then, the number of plots has increased to over 400 plots and the original plots have been re-measured periodically. 2010 marked the start of the fourth iteration of surveys which concluded in summer 2011. The land-use history of most areas in the HMF is well known, having been a principal interest of Landscape Historian and Biologist Henry Art. Link to HMF Vegetation Database HERE.




Temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, wind speed and direction and solar radiation are monitored at several weather stations in the HMF [view weather data]. Water discharge is measured continuously at weirs (small dams) on the South Branch and main stem of Birch Brook. Precipitation chemistry is monitored in samples collected near the weather station field and the chemistry of Birch Brook is monitored periodically. Contact Professor David Dethier for information about the meteorological, hydrological, and biogeochemical monitoring in the forest or the Environmental Analysis Lab.

Mowing Patterns and their Impact on Flower Production and Pollinator Activity


The focus of this study, overseen by Joan Edwards, is to assess the impact of both the timing and frequency of mowing on floral production (flower-scape) and pollinator activity.  We are using sixteen plots divided into four blocks (with individual treatments) to assess the effects of early (late-July) annual, early biennial, late (late-October) annual and late biennial mowing. After a regime of annual mowing and collecting some baseline data, we started treatments in summer 2013 and have continued with the mowing regimens each summer since. Each autumn students and faculty gather data on the plots. In 2016, in addition to the floristic surveys, we again used cameras, one per plot throughout the study site, to record visits of insect pollinators. They were each fixed on one prominent inflorescence of Solidago rugosa (wrinkle-leaved goldenrod), a plant that occurs in every plot. Julie Jung’s 2015 honors thesis, entitled, “The influence of land management practices on the abundance and diversity of fall-blooming Asteraceae and their pollinators” presents the initial findings from this study.

student researchers

Garlic Mustard Population Dynamics

Joan Edwards’ study of the population dynamics of the invasive plant, garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), continued into 2016. Student assistants continued collecting data on established plots in three different areas in Hopkins Forest. By analyzing these data over a number of years, Dr. Edwards is gaining insight into garlic mustard’s success in forests of different ages, its rate of invasion, and its effects on native flora.

Ant/Tree Hopper Mutualism

Manuel Morales in the Biology Department, Hopkins Forest continued his study of ant (Formica sp.) and tree hopper (Publilia sp.) mutualism in goldenrod (Solidago altissima) fields. Experiments conducted in several fields during the summer of 2016. Past experiments have tested the effect of fertilization of S. altissima on the their Publilia colonies.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl Migration Banding

2016 marked the ninth season of banding Northern Saw-whet Owls (NSWO) during their fall migration at Hopkins Forest. The station operated on 38 evenings from October 2nd to November 17th–using an audio-lure and mist nets to capture and band these small, migratory owls. The station captured 169, mostly female, NSWOs during this period. Of these captures, six had been previously banded at other stations. In addition, several owls that we had banded in previous years were recaptured at various stations in the Eastern U.S. Continued recoveries of HMF banded owls at other stations will yield additional information on their migration routes and timing, growth, survivorship and molt progressions. Come visit our banding season in the fall.


 Amphibian Use of Two Vernal Pools

087From 2006 to 2010 amphibian populations at two adjacent vernal pools near the southern edge of Hopkins Forest were monitored using pitfall trap/drift fence arrays. The traps were checked daily (twice daily during the peak spring migration) from late March through mid-November of those five years. Thousands of amphibians were tallied during that period. Predominant among them were wood frogs (Rana sylvatica), and spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum); other species caught during the course of this study  were spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), American toads (Bufo americanus), green frogs (Rana clamitans), pickerel frogs (Rana palustris), Eastern newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) and Jeffersons (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), red-backed (Plethodon cinerius), northern dusky (Desmognathus fuscus) and two-lined salamanders (Eurycea bislineata).

Student Research

Undergraduates at Williams have undertaken numerous research projects, including honors thesis research, on a variety of topics over the past thirty years. Other opportunities for undergraduates include research assistantships, independent studies, Winter Study projects and summer employment. Although funded positions are generally reserved for Williams College students, consideration would be given to individuals from other areas where feasible. Check the Summer Opportunities page if you might be interested in working at Hopkins Forest this summer.

Persons interested in undertaking research or environmental monitoring in Hopkins Forest should submit a Research Proposal Form.