Students from UW-Platteville and CMN present earthworm research in Argentina

January 17, 2012

PLATTEVILLE - Students Sara Allen of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and Leon Fowler of the College of Menominee Nation in Keshena traveled to Mar del Plata, Argentina, this winter to present research at BIOLIEF's 2nd World Conference on Biological Invasions and Ecosystem Functioning. The research project, Invasive Earthworm Impacts on Tree Growth in the Menominee Forest of Northern Wisconsin, was funded by a Wisconsin Alliance for Minority Participation grant and done in cooperation between UW-Platteville and CMN.

"The most beneficial part of this experience was being able to do a project from beginning to end," said Allen, a UW-Platteville senior geography and history major and biology minor from Platteville. "To be involved in the entire process, from field work to analysis to presentation, was amazing."

Dr. Evan Larson, UW-Platteville assistant geography professor who is currently serving as a Fulbright Scholar in Sweden for the 2011-12 academic year, pursued the WiscAMP grant that funded the research and travel, assembled the student team and directly supervised their research over the course of the project last summer.

Dr. Richard Waugh, UW-Platteville professor of geography, accompanied Allen and Fowler to Argentina on Larson's behalf and commended him for making the experience possible for the students.

"What made this unique was the fact that it was in an international setting. It is not common for undergraduates to travel internationally to present their research," he said. "Sara and Leon did an excellent job, and those that were exposed to their work couldn't help but be impressed that UW-Platteville was so committed to the development of their students that they would send them that far to a conference."

Allen said she felt they contributed a unique aspect to the event since they were the only group focused on earthworms, as well as the only group using dendrochronology, the dating of past events and variations in the environment by examining the growth rings of trees, to track the effects of invasive species.

"A lot of people were asking about how we were using dendrochronology," said Allen. "It was pretty awesome to get to explain that. And because Dr. Larson let us take the lead on the project, we could explain it."

Fowler, a senior natural resources and sustainable development major at CMN, said presenting the earthworm research at the conference, and having the opportunity to learn about research being done on other invasive species, had special meaning for him as a member of the Menominee Nation.

"I'm worried about the health and well-being of the lakes on the Menominee Reservation, so when the keynote speakers talked about zebra mussels, which are also a concern in our area, I was very interested in what they had to say," Fowler said. "It was a humbling experience to be in the presence of people from so many other countries. You see how we can help each other solve similar challenges."

For their earthworm research in the Menominee Forest last summer, Allen and Fowler worked with team members Henry Dodge of CMN and Brody Knaak of UW-Platteville to survey invasion fronts, take samples and document changes in the forest floor plant communities. Their goal was to first determine if invasive species of earthworms, such as angleworms or night crawlers, were present in the forest, and if so, what effect they were having on the ecosystem.

Although they did find evidence of non-native species, Allen said they were heartened that it was not at the level they expected, meaning there is still time to do something about it by educating residents and area visitors on how to minimize the damage invasive earthworm species can do.

"There is a strong responsibility for all of us to preserve the Menominee Forest for generations to come," said Allen. "It has profound religious and cultural value, and it was an honor for us at UW-Platteville to be allowed to go in there for this study."

Allen added, "Besides the scientific research, visiting the Menominee Reservation was an amazing cultural experience. Leon shared a lot of their traditions with us and we were able to stay right there in Keshena. Henry's mom even cooked us a traditional meal."

Both Allen and Fowler said they intend to keep in touch, even as they move on to graduate school - Allen in historical geography and Fowler in natural resource and wildlife management.

They also extended their gratitude to Larson for the opportunity to be involved in undergraduate research and for giving them an international forum to present it in, as well as their thanks to Waugh for helping make the trip abroad a smooth one.

UW-Platteville also partners with CMN through a grant from the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program that is funded through the National Science Foundation to help bring American Indian students to larger universities, allowing them to become more active in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs on campus.

For more information, contact Larson at larsonev@uwplatt.edu, or Waugh at waugh@uwplatt.edu.

Contact: Dr. Evan Larson, assistant professor, UW-Platteville Department of Social Sciences, larsonev@uwplatt.edu; Dr. Richard Waugh, professor, UW-Platteville Department of Social Sciences, (608) 342-1386, waugh@uwplatt.edu Written by: Barbara Weinbrenner, communications specialist, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, weinbreb@uwplatt.edu

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