Alumni Rising: Peter investigates understudied native phragmites

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay graduate student Matt Peter is out to broaden the base of knowledge of a currently understudied subject — the effects of native phragmites on Door County shores.

You see, it is the exotic invasive plant that seems to take over shorelines in a matter of a few years and are the scorn of naturalists, tourists and homeowners. The native species may be getting a bad rap, right along with it. Maybe.

Peter, a native of Rothschild, Wis. near Wausau, and a graduate of UW-Green Bay’s environmental science program in 2011, is working with The Nature Conservancy to study the differences between the two and how each responds to various natural stimuli. A recent feature in “Pulse,” a print and online resource for Door County art, news and entertainment, featured Peter’s work earlier this fall.

The feature explains an extensive effort to kill the exotic species in Door County and a possible indifference, and the effect it could have, if the native phragmites are destroyed along with the exotic.

“Native species, such as native Phragmties, have co-evolved with the other species in their ecosystem,” Peter explains. “Over time, each species has established its own niche within the natural environment and  has developed a set of services that it provides to the surrounding ecosystem. Essentially, each native species is a small piece of a very complex puzzle. Therefore, by eliminating the native Phragmites you may also be weakening the health of the ecosystem.”

He says that many organizations including The Nature Conservancy and “even the United States government” aim to protect and promote biodiversity.

“By definition, this requires them to focus on specific species genotypes (aka subspecies). Laws, like the Endangered Species Act, recognize the importance of protecting genetic diversity. Through an understanding of the importance of genetic diversity, the goal of our project is to determine differences in the native and exotic genotypes of Phragmites to help shape effective and efficient management strategies for conservation groups and land managers.”

Peter said he chose UW-Green Bay for its environmental science program. He chose to stay and pursue his master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy because of the faculty and graduate students he had an opportunity to interact with as an undergraduate.

“The ES&P faculty is outstanding and being able to work with many of them as an undergrad is really what drove me to stay here for grad school. Also, as an undergrad I interacted with many previous grad students and I was really impressed with the work that they were doing. I admired how challenging the program is and the quality of the work that is produced from the ES&P program.”

Peter is working toward a spring 2015 graduation date, and possible future career as a land manager or restoration ecologist.

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 Matt Peter, Environmental Science and Policy graduate student, studies effects of native phragmites on Door County shores  Matt Peter, Environmental Science and Policy graduate student, studies effects of native phragmites on Door County shores  Matt Peter, Environmental Science and Policy graduate student, studies effects of native phragmites on Door County shores