2023 Arboretum Research Fellows Announced

Spiderwort and white wild indigo blooming in Curtis Prairie

Spiderwort and white wild indigo blooming in Curtis Prairie (Photo: Susan Day)

The UW–Madison Arboretum is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2023 Research Fellowships. Four graduate students have been granted fellowships for projects that investigate timely conservation issues such as ecological restoration, invasive species, and climate change. The students will receive funding and access to Arboretum land and resources. The Arboretum will also foster connections and collaborations among the Fellows and with the broader community over the course of their projects.

Research Fellowships for one year of support were awarded to Aishwarya Veerabahu (PhD candidate, Department of Botany); Mark Fuka (PhD candidate, Department of Integrative Biology); Sam Anderson (PhD candidate, Department of Botany); and Michelle Homann (PhD candidate, Department of Integrative Biology).

Using a combination of field and molecular techniques, Veerabahu will investigate the ecological impacts of the golden oyster mushroom, an edible invasive wood decay fungus, on native fungal communities and their decay regimes. This project creates opportunities for public engagement, including citizen science for tracking invasive species and advocacy of responsible fungal cultivation practices.

Fuka’s research will examine the efficacy of capsaicin, a natural taste deterrent, in reducing the consumption of red oak acorns and saplings by herbivores such as white-tailed deer. By evaluating a novel method to improve oak recruitment in both invaded and uninvaded forests, this work will be pivotal in advancing practical restoration techniques and will inform future management strategies to promote oak tree establishment and recruitment.

Anderson will apply a physiological perspective to assessing abiotic stress tolerance of Wisconsin woody species. With the heterogeneity of stressors and environments in Wisconsin temperate communities, this work will produce a broader physiological understanding of woody plant stress tolerance that would serve to support ecological research and land management. This research will provide new perspective on historical assessments as well as inform future analyses.

Homann’s research will examine the effects of planting order combined with projected climate change manipulations in tallgrass prairie communities. The results will be highly relevant to understanding how management decisions and a changing climate interact to drive community composition and diversity during the early stages of restoration and can help increase the predictability of restoration outcomes.

These Fellows were selected for their potential to advance knowledge and have a sustained influence in their field, and for their projects’ relevance to the Arboretum’s mission and work. The recipients demonstrate a passion for conservation, an understanding of the real-world applications of their work, and a dedication to engaging our community in scholarship. We look forward to sharing more about the Fellows and the progress of their research.

—Maddie Smith, outreach specialist