Bulldozing a few trees to make way for a corporate hotel, as unfortunate and unnecessary as it may be, is nothing new.

Bulldozing a publicly funded classroom at one of the nation’s best public universities to make room for a corporate hotel is another matter entirely.

Salamanders like this one are a part of the living laboratory that will be torn down when construction of the hotel begins.

But in a manner of speaking, that is exactly what is being proposed here at Stony Brook. The “classroom” doesn’t have walls or desks, but the woods by the main entrance of the university do serve as a living laboratory for thousands of students.

Caitlin Fisher-Reid is one of those students. She is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolution whose dissertation on the evolutionary processes of the terrestrial woodland salamander will be significantly impacted should construction on the property begin before she completes her research in two years.

The 13-acre plot of land appropriated for the hotel is one of Fisher-Reid’s most successful field sites for her research, out of 30 other locations across Suffolk County.

“I consider it one of my high quality sites because every time I go there I find salamanders,” she said.

For two years, from March to mid-November, Fisher-Reid has been taking expeditions into the forest twice a week to find salamanders and take various measurements of environmental factors and the creatures themselves.

The focus of Fisher-Reid’s dissertation, color variations (or morphs) within the same species, makes the site even more valuable. That particular forest is home to one of the best contact zones between two color morphs of the species, she says.

“My project has the potential to generate a lot of long term monitoring of these salamanders and of the environment in general,” said Fisher-Reid.

While Fisher-Reid may be the biggest beneficiary of the forest, its educational significance is felt by many more students and faculty on campus.

“Beyond the scope of my dissertation, the forest is used,” she said. “Once I leave, the forest is still going to be used.”

Catherine Graham, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, is constantly looking for ways to provide students with real world examples of what is discussed in class, and the forest provides the best window for doing just that.

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