UW-Green Bay students present research funded by Cofrin Research Grants, March 7

Subjects include endangered species, ecological indicators and green exercise

GREEN BAY – Five University of Wisconsin-Green Bay students will report on research conducted in three UW-Green Bay natural areas at the 28th Annual Cofrin Student Symposium from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, in the Christie Theatre of the University Union.

Since 1987, more than 150 students have been funded by the program through an endowment established by the Cofrin family. The program will also include an announcement of the recipient of the Paul and Thea Sager Scholarship for excellence in scientific writing. The event is free and open to the public.

Students in the program carry out research projects related to the UW-Green Bay’s Cofrin Memorial Arboretum and other University-managed natural areas in northeastern Wisconsin. Funding is provided by a student research grant program established by an endowment from the families of Dr. David Cofrin and the late John Cofrin. The Land Trust Grant was established by UW-Green Bay faculty and staff Michael Draney and Vicki Medland to support student research at other natural areas in northeast Wisconsin. Grants of up to $1,000 are awarded competitively based on student proposals and are open to all students at UW-Green Bay. Students’ projects, carried out in collaboration with faculty members, must contribute to improving understanding of the ecology, history and appreciation of the selected natural area(s). The projects also give students experience in properly designing and carrying out research. Students interested in applying for grants for the upcoming year should call Vicki Medland at 920-465-2342 or visit www.uwgb.edu/biodiversity/ for application guidelines. Applications are due on May 1, 2017.  Four students will present their research at the 28th Annual Symposium.

  • Vanessa Brotske, pollination of the federally endangered dwarf lake iris
  • Willson Gaul, using dragonflies and damselflies to monitor the health of natural areas
  • Katie McDonald, using fungi as an indicator of the health of forest ecosystems
  • Jeremiah Shrovnal, Bat Diversity and Abundance in the coastal zone of lower Green Bay, Lake Michigan
  • James Wise, studying physical activity in natural environments and its relation to improved health

Brotske, Gaul and McDonald are all enrolled in the Master’s Program in Environmental Science & Policy (ES&P). Wise and Shrovnal are undergraduates in the Human Biology program. More on their research follows.

Vanessa Brotske holding endangered dwarf lake iris seeds at Toft Point

Vanessa Brotske holding endangered dwarf lake iris seeds at Toft Point

Little is known about species interactions and factors affecting seed germination and seedling survival in federally endangered dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris). Although this plant used to be common along the shores of Lake Michigan, it is now restricted to only a few locations including UW Green Bay’s Toft Point in northern Door County. Vanessa Brotske’s thesis research aims to identify visiting pollinators, identify species involved in dispersal and predation of seeds, and to determine the effect of soil scarification on seed germination and seedling establishment. The plant has evolved a unique seed dispersal strategy: they produce high nutrient parcels on the outside of their seeds that attract ants, who then take the seeds back to their nests. The ants eat the parcels, but discard the seeds into their dump areas, where the seeds can sprout and grow into new colonies.

Willson Gaul conducted surveys of dragonflies and damselflies in order to establish regular monitoring areas for these important indicator species in the Lower Green Bay and Fox River Area of Concern, including UW-Green Bay natural areas. An “Area of Concern” is a geographic region where human activities have negatively affected the natural area. Species like dragonflies can help scientists to track improvement. The results of his study will provide a species list that will be shared with the Wisconsin Odonata Survey, sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

UW-Green Bay has contributed to bat monitoring efforts for nearly a decade. Jeremiah Shrovnal’s study continues this tradition by assessing bat populations in the coastal zone of lower Green Bay, including shoreline habitats in two UW-Green Bay managed natural areas (Cofrin Arboretum and Point au Sable Nature Reserve), especially areas in the Lower Green Bay and Fox River Area of Concern (AOC). The data will provide valuable information about the importance of the coastal zone for both resident and migratory bats.

Understanding the fungi that live in forest ecosystems is crucial to making good conservation and land management decisions. Because many trees and other plants depend on fungi for nutrients and water, those fungi can be used to indicate the health of the forest ecosystem. Katie McDonald conducted a survey of the fungi in two forested UW-Green Bay natural areas to compare differences between communities. The results of this study will contribute to efforts identify and categorize fungal species in the Midwest. This study will also provide baseline data on rare and endangered species in Northeast Wisconsin and will set the stage for future research and conservation of fungi.

“Green” exercise is a relatively new field of study that involves physical activity undertaken in natural environments. Recent studies have suggested that nature based recreation may improve physical and mental health. Undergraduate Human Biology major James Wise is taking advantage of the UW-Green Bay’s unique exercise facilities to further study how “green” exercise might provide enhanced health benefits. He is comparing heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol stress-hormone levels in volunteers who ran on an indoor treadmill or on trails in the Cofrin Memorial Arboretum. Although his research is ongoing, Wise will discuss the merits of green exercise, which might motivate individuals to exercise more often due to the relief of stress, anxiety, and depression. It may also provide an alternative to therapeutic drugs in the case of mental illness and may reduce heart rate recovery and improve athletic performance.

About the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is a comprehensive public institution offering undergraduate and graduate programs to 6,700 students. The University transforms lives and communities through exceptional and award-winning teaching and research, innovative learning opportunities, and a problem-solving approach to education. For more information, visit www.uwgb.edu.

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