Laura Van Galen – Research Assistant – Forest Ecology

My story behind our trees…

I’m a PhD candidate, which means I do research whilst working towards getting a doctoral degree. My research at the moment is in New Zealand, and is about the associations that form between the roots of beech trees and certain types of fungi and how it helps beech trees regenerate and grow.

I love how varied my job is, and that I have a lot of freedom to study what is interesting to me. It’s also inspiring working and collaborating with other people who are just as passionate as I am about forests. I also love getting to spend so much time outside in such beautiful forests; it doesn’t really feel like work when I’m eating lunch under a giant tree many kilometres from any sign of humans!

I love bushwalking. There is something very intriguing about walking on foot through such large and complicated ecosystems.

The more I learn about forests the more interested I become in how so many different species interact to form the ecosystem, and why one forest patch can feel so different to another one that is only a few hundred meters away.

Forests have value for many different reasons, and I think it’s important that we spend time in them to fully appreciate the extent of this value and just how old and complex these ecosystems are.

My typical work day varies a lot! Over the last month I’ve been spending most days doing field work. This has involved traveling around many different beech forests in New Zealand to find out what fungi is growing where. Sometimes the forests are really easy to walk through, other times they are thick with understory plants and can be quite exhausting to access!

When I’m not doing field work I’m generally working in the office. There are many jobs to do in the office, including using and creating maps to plan new field sites, ringing and emailing land owners to get permission to work on their land, and reading other people’s published research to plan how my research can add to what has already been done. Once I collect all my field data lots of my time will be spent in the office doing statistics to find patterns in my data and answer my research questions. I’ll then spend time writing up my results to be published so they can be used by other people.

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