Posted by: tysonrc | March 1, 2010

2010 Tyson Organic Garden

The sun is shining bright today, but when you step outside thinking you don’t need a coat, winter slaps you right in the face again.  Yes, spring is coming but it is not quite here yet.   Don’t despair though; we are getting a jumpstart on spring here at Tyson by starting work on our organic garden.   

The Tyson garden in early May of 2009


We created the garden last year as a means to provide local, sustainable food for our Summer Seminar Series BBQ’s.  This is in line with our mission to be as “green” as possible.  The garden has an interesting side effect of allowing students that may have never grown food, to try their hand at it and hopefully walk away with even more knowledge.  It was a great success last season, but this year we have even more planned.  We are making the garden a permanent fixture and building 10 4’x8’ x 1′ high raised beds.  Raised beds have many benefits over regular row plantings, especially for a garden this size.  Some of these benefits include reduced soil compaction, less weeds, better drainage, soil composition control, and more control over watering and fertilizing.  Also, one big advantage of the raised beds is aesthetics.  The beds are in nice and neat rows that groups can easily walk through and get up close and personal with the plants that are providing us with delicious food, week after week.  This week we are going to break ground and start assembling our raised beds.  This will all be done by hand and it is going to be an amazing amount of fun!  If you would like to join in this fun with us, you can.  Heck, put in a few hours and we’ll even give you a coveted Tyson T-Shirt.  If you would like to help, please email Travis Mohrman at Mohrman(AT) 

In the mean time, thanks to the wonderful staff at the campus greenhouse, we are starting the seeds of several plants to get a jump start on the growing season.  Plants like squash, artichokes, peppers, and tomatoes are being grown early so they can be transplanted into our garden after the last frost in order to have yummy side dishes at our seminar series.  Just thinking about a fresh grown tomato and basil salad is making my mouth water!   

Don’t forget to thank Gnorm the Gnome for providing protection!

–Elizabeth Biro 

Posted by: tysonrc | February 19, 2010

Is that spring I hear?

It is still frigid cold here at Tyson Research Center and it seems as if winter doesn’t want to let go this year.  We have had below normal temperatures for weeks and plenty of snow this season.  While this seems to effect people, the animals seem to go on with the rock solid logic that spring is coming and nothing will stop that.  Many animals don’t pay that much attention to the temperatures to guide seasonal behavior, although it may seem like it.  Animals mainly rely on photoperiod, the amount of sunlight in the day, to guide seasonal patterns.  This way, even in a colder than normal February, they know what time of year it is and what tasks they should be preparing for.   

The days are still far too short for most birds to be vocalizing the beautiful songs that we associate with spring.  The sunrise bird chorus throughout spring is one of the greatest gifts that the prairies and forests can give us, but it is still too early in the season for that.  Most birds, however, don’t have the sort of resolve that the Northern Cardinal has.   

they sing even when it is snowing


The Cardinal is a very large finch.  It has a specialized beak that is used for breaking open seeds with speed that would make most baseball players envious.  It is also a very aggressive and territorial bird.  Even though it is colder than it should be and many other birds are still flocked together to find more food, the cardinal is out there, right now, singing a song that is one of the main chorus’ of the spring symphony.  The territorial song of the cardinal is a delicate, but powerful lilting call that is sung by both the males and the females.  Northern cardinals mate for life, but still appear to sing directly to each other.  These calls  serve as a vocal fence line for all other cardinals, much like the famous “aunkereee” of the red-winged blackbird in the marsh.  The aggression of the cardinal can be evident when some human decides to park a car, with side view mirrors no less, right in the middle of their territory.  The cardinals will destroy that mirror thinking the reflection of themself is another bird.  Only once the mirror is so mucked up with saliva and scratch marks that the reflection is no longer visible, will the cardinal declare victory and stop.  Truly, among the songbird world, the cardinals are not to be messed with.   

Those eyes hold just a little "crazy" inside them


So, even though it is cold and dreary, the spring songs of the cardinals are filling the air and lifting peoples spirits; reminding us that, even though it doesn’t always seem like it, nothing will stop the arrival of spring.   

–Travis Mohrman

Posted by: tysonrc | February 9, 2010

Time to cut some cedars

Now that we have the deer exclosure project wrapped up, we are moving on to a new project.  It’s a fun one too!  nothing warms a cold, winters day like killing some cedar.  Ahhh…just let your mind drift to the first time you cut down a cedar tree…..remember the way the rest of the woodland seemed grateful for getting rid of that pest?     

look confident don't they?


Cedar trees actually can be beautiful, graceful trees.  They can grow out of a bluff face for a thousand years, have twisty, gnarly stems and just a small tuft of green foliage on the end.  Those cedars are good cedars.  The cedars that are bad are the straight ones, growing out of soil and appearing full and healthy.  Can you believe the audacity of them?!?     

Even a child can take them down!


 Red cedar have been able to move into historically cedar free zones because fire has been suppressed.  No big surprise, but cedars are highly flammable, close to explosive really.  We have all seen those old fields that have been neglected and turn into one big block of cedar trees; or been driving down the road and come to a vista and can see a large block of cedar right in the middle of the woods.  Those are the bad cedars.  Fire would generally keep cedars growing only in areas that fire couldn’t get to.     



 The Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) does not much care for water, so that leaves rock.  The trees have the ability to creep right into a boulder or a bluff face and hold tight.  They need very little water to survive and go dormant for years on end if the weather isn’t right.    

Since cedars are so strong and can grow under the worst of conditions, they can also grow really well and really fast under decent conditions and with a little soil.  Suppress fire and walk away and you end up with our current situation of thousands of small glades and savannah sites all over Missouri socked in with cedar trees and very little else.    

This brings us to our next project of clearing one of these small sites in the neighboring land of West Tyson County Park, owned and operated by St. Louis County.  This site is a 2.5 acre area that is heavily cedar infested.  We have started clearing the area and will be done by spring.  It will take several years for the site to start to fill back in with desirable native vegetation and we will re-institute a prescribed fire schedule for this little plot to try to keep the cedars and other invasives at bay.  This is not a site that we will use for research though, it is mainly a gift to our neighbors that we were able to do with a generous grant from the Missouri Department of Conservation.     

Greensfelder glade and savannah


We conduct research in this park as well as many other county parks, so this is really a way to say thank you to both the county and to the citizens that frequent these parks.  The county park system only has one other restored glade/savannah site and it is a beautiful little gem in Greensfelder County Park.  Once we are done with the restoration work, we will step back and let dormant seeds and stunted tiny plants re-emerge to take over.  We are not going to be adding seeds unless it is deemed necessary by a lack of diverse, native re-emergence.     

Love Ryberg practices habitat restoration


As you can see from the photos, we begin training the kids early in the ways of habitat restoration!   Just kidding, she’s getting a christmas tree off a glade in central Missouri, but that’s another great reason to take out a cedar!   

–Travis Mohrman

Posted by: tysonrc | January 29, 2010


We have finished building all 8 deer exclosures!  We had to take a break because everything thawed out and it became a muddy mess.  Now that it got cold again, we finished off the remaining ones this week.   

Moving the last roll


All in all, this project went really well, thanks mostly to Pete, Tim and Steve for putting so much time and effort not only into the labor aspect of it, but planning as well.  Tim was diligently searching for the proper places for a few of the big cages in the woods and he and Steve put all the posts in during the hot part of summer.   

 I think the deer know what is going on though.  we found one shed antler right in the middle of one of the unfinished exclosures this week.  It didn’t have any fencing around it, just posts, so the deer probably decided to go ahead and nibble anything tasty inside since he will not be allowed back in for a decade or two.  

Also, only one exclosure demanded blood during the project.  As a benefit for most of us, it took this blood out of the face of Dr. Allan (he’s big and  has plenty of blood to donate to the cause.)   

Brian Allan with his battle wound


Now that the infrastructure is up, the next step is to begin sampling during the growing season.  It won’t show heavily for a few years, but after that we will see a stark contrast in these areas that the deer are not allowed in.  It can be amazing just how much even a small population like ours actually eats and affects the forest!  

Tim showing how a deer could use a ladder to go over the fence.


–Travis Mohrman

Posted by: tysonrc | January 22, 2010

Nestled in the hills

One of the things that makes Tyson Research Center great is the sense of isolation you can feel while conducting research out in these hills and valleys.  It can feel like you are miles and miles out in the country, when really, you are 15 miles from the edge of St. Louis.  The fact that we have almost 2000 acres helps, but there is more to it than that.  Tyson is surrounded by a large buffer of public land and greenspace and this really provides the sense of isolation that can wash over you while working here.  You don’t hear car horns, or garage doors, rarely even airplanes.

On top of all the greenspace surrounding us, we are lucky to have good relationships with all of our neighbors.  We study the ponds at Forest 44 Conservation Area, Beaumont Scout Camp and Lone Elk Park(even though this has angered the bison a time or two), and we are getting ready to restore a 2.5 acre glade  on West Tyson County Park .  In exchange for allowing us to work on their property, we provide plants lists, lists of everything living in the ponds, and also provide a service by hiking off trail and noticing things like litter piles and signs of poaching.

If you own some property within about an hour of Eureka, MO and would enjoy getting lists like these as well as letting science take place on your land, please call Travis Mohrman at 314-934-8437.  We have researchers working on many different things, but we are especially interested in fishless ponds, prairies, glades and streams.

–Travis Mohrman

Posted by: tysonrc | January 13, 2010

TERF Symposium

Tyson Research Center has partnered with the National Science Foundation and Shaw Nature Reserve (a division of the Missouri Botanical Garden) on a project entitled “Making Natural Connections: an Authentic Field Research Collaboration”.  As part of this project, 17 high school students from throughout the St. Louis area completed a one-month fellowship at Tyson during the summer of 2009.  These students will present posters and short presentations of their research experiences from 2:00 to 3:30pm on Saturday, January 30th (see announcement below).  Please RSVP to Susan Flowers at if you plan to come.  Everyone with a connection to the high school students or Tyson Research Center is encouraged to attend.

I have been impressed with the amount of work students have put into making their posters.  They have attended three sessions that each lasted three hours, and they have done work at home.  The sessions have been fun, and they have been a good opportunity for everyone to catch up on what others have done since the end of the summer.  The sessions have also been a great opportunity to eat some goodies!  I have personally enjoyed some very good chocolate truffles and gummy fishes.  Susan has provided much of the good stuff, but we were also lucky enough to have Josef and his family provide great food from IKEA in Chicago.”

–Tim Dickson

Posted by: tysonrc | January 11, 2010

Hungry Armadillos


The 9-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is new to these parts.  In the past several years only two have been spotted (both alive) on Tyson Research Center. The excellent photos in this entry are all the same individual and were taken by Dr. James Trager at the Shaw Nature Reserve last week near the Meramec river.  Armadillos may be more numerous in Shaw because of all the healthy prairie supporting plenty of soil invertebrates.  

While these armored mammals have been in Missouri for the last 20-30 years, they have just recently pushed this far north.  They have expanded their range very quickly compared to other animals.   This may bring dismay to both gardeners and farmers, as they have been known to root around in cultivated areas, but a short fence will stop these generally apathetic creatures from causing anyone gardening distress.  It should be noted that unlike exotic pests, the 9 banded armadillo is native and is naturally expanding its range.   

The very interesting thing with this situation is that range expansion can be fraught with disaster.  Illustrated very clearly by the extended below freezing weather we have had for the last two weeks.  These animals do not hibernate, although they will go into a den.  They need to eat all winter long and their primary food source is invertebrates.  Even though the legs of the armadillo are strong and made for digging, they can not dig through thickly frozen soil.  hopefully, the individual in these photos was fed a hearty meal of ants from Dr. Trager’s pockets. (Myrmecologists have a curious habit of carrying and collecting ant samples pretty much all the time.)  


All signs indicate that they will continue moving north, despite having an inevitable population drop every few winters.  A good (albeit unfortunate) measure of whether these animals are in your area is to pay attention to the roadkill.  Armadillos have the instinct to jump when they are scared and as a car approaches them, they will jump straight up in the air; if they would not do this, most cars would safely cruise over them. Due to this adaptation to jump, roadkill is readily seen in areas that armadillos are occupying.   

Hopefully, many of our newly arrived armor clad friends have been able to survive this current cold snap by dining on insects inside rotten logs and, of course, the aforementioned “pocket ants”.  They are an excellent addition to Missouri’s diverse fauna and we are happy to have them as new arrivals on the grounds of Tyson Research Center.  

after the photo shoot, this armadillo plods away


–Travis Mohrman

Posted by: tysonrc | January 8, 2010


It has been very cold around St. Louis in the past few weeks; with today being the coldest day yet.  The extreme cold can bring about very good opportunities to view spectacular icicles, especially if you can find exposed bedrock that has been disturbed by human actions.  Things like road cuts along highways are the most common example.  Around St. Louis we have large deposits of porous limestone. 

Tyson Research Center is no exception to this and most of ours is Burlington-Keokuk, Kimmswick and Plattin limestones.  These formations are well-known for creating Karst topography and can carry water great distances through small, vein like tubes within the rocks.  When people blast the side off of a bluff to build a highway or mine the stone, they expose these secret, underground water flows.  This is where the magic really happens in this cold weather.  These trickles of water continue to flow because the groundwater is deep within the rock and doesn’t freeze until it comes out through the broken rock face.  Below freezing temperatures for a prolonged period can really cause these ice formations to build up into very grand sights.  They can truly be found anywhere exposed rock faces are, but just driving along interstate 44 will reveal hundreds of these and each one is unique.  Below are some pictures of some ice formations from our abandoned quarry area.

–Travis Mohrman

Posted by: tysonrc | December 16, 2009

That’s a cold fence!

It was a twelve degree morning in our main valley, so we here at Tyson Research Center decided to build a fence.  That makes sense right?  Actually, it does.  When the ground is frozen solid we don’t disturb the understory with our feet and light equipment; plus, these are no regular fences.  They are 50 meter by 50 meter deer exclosures in the woods.  When all the construction is done next month, we will end up with 8 of these exclosures with adjacent control plots.   

Tim clearing a path


Today, we finished number 4.  Thanks to a great deal of work getting posts into the ground by Pete, Tim and Steve, running out the fencing material is going fairly quickly.   

The fencing itself is made to only exclude the white-tailed deer from the plot.  Everything from raccoons to turkeys can still strut right in and have an impact on the ecosystem.  By creating these exclosures in this fashion, we are better able to see the true effect that deer have on an area.    

We have a few experiments scheduled to start in these plots already, with the earliest beginning this spring.  Some of the questions include tick densities, understory development and fire.  If you have an idea for an experiment you would like to undertake through your university or research organization within these fences and controls, please contact us at    

Until then, we will continue to wait for the coldest mornings to put them up.  It just makes for more fun and better science.   

Wrestling the roll of fencing


–Travis Mohrman

Posted by: tysonrc | December 10, 2009


Welcome to the new blog about Tyson Research Center.  With this blog, we will attempt to let others know about what goes on out here throughout the entire year.  Topics will include research projects, updates to other ongoing projects, thoughts about day-to-day life at a biological field station, some seasonal natural history notifications, class and group visits, and just generally everything that goes into making a great field station work.  Posts will be written by a large variety of individuals from tyson staff to undergraduate researchers.

Some background for those of you that may not know…

Tyson Research Center is a 1,966.5 acre biological field station ~20 miles from downtown St. Louis.  That may not seem very far away from the city, but that is what makes Tyson very unique.  We are buffered on all sides by other public land and that creates a wonderful cocoon for us to carry out our research without worry.  All the public land that surrounds us is one of the reasons that we are not open to the public for hiking or other outdoor pursuits.  It could be very bad to have someone walk through some of our long term plots or accidentally alter an ongoing experiment.  

We do allow research from many different organizations from universities all over the country to state groups like the Missouri Mycological Society (MOMS).  If you have an idea for a research project you would like to carry out, please contact us by visiting

So, if you are a student, researcher, or just a curious person and you have ever wondered what exactly “goes on” at a biological field station; we invite you to peer through the keyhole that is this blog and look around, you may find a new career…

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