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Science of the Seasons

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Environmental Education Resource

National Arbor Day is April 28. Discover ways to celebrate where you live.

[photo:] Greer Spring, Mark Twain National Forest. Photo by US Forest Service. [photo:] Catwillow Monarchs Chequemegon-Nicolet National Forest. Photo by US Forest Service. [photo:] Students with binoculars. Photo by US Forest Service. [photo:] Bison cow and calf. [photo:] Yellow Lady's Slippers.  Hiawatha National Forest.  Photo by US Forest Service.


Forest research is a year-round occupation, but it is fair to say that things get more exciting in the spring. As trees leaf out and understory plants grow, scientists return to the woods to re-measure existing field plots and to install new studies.

This page brings together Northern Research Station science that relates to the season, along with links to other seasonal resources within the U.S. Forest Service. The publications listed do not necessarily represent every study related to winter; for a complete list of NRS publications, please visit our Publications page at:

Seasons Podcasts

Western Great Lakes Bird Survey

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  • Kelly van Frankenhuyzen talks with U.S. Forest Service experts about the long-term Western Great Lakes Bird Survey.
  • Linda Parker, Forest Ecologist, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Park Falls, Wisconsin
  • Brian Sturtevant, Research Ecologist, Northern Research Station, Rhinelander, Wisconsin
  • Gerald Niemi, Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Minnesota in Duluth and Natural Resource Research Institute
  • Robert Howe, Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and director of the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity
  • Mark Nelson, Research Forester, Forest Inventory and Analysis, Northern Research Station, St. Paul, Minnesota

Ice Storm Experiment

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  • Kelly van Frankenhuyzen talks with U.S. Forest Service experts about the Hubbard Brook Ice Storm Experiment and the importance of studying ice storms.
  • Jason Walker, White Mountain National Forest, Pemigewasset Ranger District
  • Lindsey Rustad, Research Ecologist; Northern Research Station, Durham, New Hampshire

View our podcast archive.

Scientist's Perspectives on the Season

Springtime and Water - Pam Edwards

As spring begins and days get longer and warmer, winter releases its grip and snowpacks melt. Spring rains, sometimes as showers and other times as intense thunderstorms, combine with snowmelt to saturate soils. 

Stream water pouring over boulders.  Photo by Sue Eggert, US Forest Service.In response to all that moisture moving through the soil, streamflow builds to reach its highest sustained levels for the year. Throughout much of the East, these spring high flows result in very acidic stream water due to the release of acidic pollutants that were incorporated in snowflakes during their formation in the winter and stored in the snowpack during melt. Concentrations of other pollutants that may be present often become diluted by the resurgence of spring high flows.  The large volumes of spring time’s turbulent cold water are saturated with oxygen needed by aquatic insects, fish and other aquatic organisms that are reviving from their more lethargic or nearly-hibernating winter behavior. 


-Pam Edwards, Research Hydrologist, Northern Research Station, Parsons, West Virginia

Springtime and Aquatic Insects - Sue Eggert

For larval aquatic insects and fishes, water temperature usually is the most important determinant of emergence or spawning. Photoperiod, or day length, is a second, less important factor. In both cases the high flows generally do not negatively influence insect emergence or spawning. 

Mayfly nymphs on submerged wood.  Photo by Sue Eggert, US Forest Service.Both insects and fishes have morphological adaptations to allow them to survive and navigate in higher flows. Most fish species prefer high water because it allows them to more easily navigate further upstream to spawn in the presence of barriers such as culverts. Notice I used the words “usually” or “generally” several times above. Due to the large variability in aquatic organism life cycles (insect life cycles can range from 2 weeks to several years), unique adaptations of organisms to external stressors, and the variety of microhabitats available in streams (e.g. riffles with shallow, swift current, pools with slower current, boulders or large wood that create eddies) there are exceptions to almost every generalization! Temperature influences wetland or lake organisms similarly with the exception that they don’t have to deal with the flow aspects.

If you are interested in learning more about aquatic insects, a good source for basic aquatic insect information is Chapter 5. Habitat, Life History, Secondary Production, and Behavioral Adaptations of Aquatic Insects by A.D. Huryn, J.B. Wallace, and N.H. Anderson in: An Introduction to the Aquatic Insects of North America (2008) by R.W. Merritt, K.W. Cummins, and M.B. Berg (eds).


-Sue Eggert, Aquatic Ecologist, Northern Research Station in Grand Rapids, Minnesota



Selected Research Stories

Selected Publications

Niemi, Gerald J.; Howe, Robert W.; Sturtevant, Brian R.; Parker, Linda R.; Grinde, Alexis R.; Danz, Nicholas P.; Nelson, Mark D.; Zlonis, Edmund J.; Walton, Nicholas G.; Gnass Giese, Erin E.; Lietz, Sue M. 2016. Analysis of long-term forest bird monitoring data from national forests of the western Great Lakes Region. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-159. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 322 p.

Edwards, Pamela J.; Williard, Karl W.J.; Schoonover, Jon E. 2015. Fundamentals of watershed hydrology. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education. 154: 3-20.

Ostry, Michael E.; Anderson, Neil A.; O’Brien, Joseph G. 2011. Field guide to common macrofungi in eastern forests and their ecosystem functions. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-79. Revised February 2017. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 82 p.


Last Modified: April 14, 2017