2024 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 2024 Research Fellowships. Four graduate students have been granted fellowships for projects that investigate timely conservation issues such as invasive species, climate change, and plant/human relationships. 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.

The Arboretum Leopold Fellowship includes two years of full support. Aishwarya Veerabahu (PhD candidate, Department of Botany) received this fellowship to research the ecological, genetic, and social dimensions of the invasive golden oyster mushroom, a non-native cultivated wood decay fungus spreading rapidly in North America. Building on Veerabahu’s previous work as a 2023 Arboretum Research Fellow, this research aims to understand how the golden oyster mushroom impacts wood decomposition and investigates the genetic mechanisms of the mushroom’s invasive potential. The project will also incorporate citizen science to track the golden oyster mushroom’s spread and outreach to inform communication and management around invasive fungi and responsible fungal cultivation practices.

Arboretum Research Fellowships for one year of support were awarded to Francisco Campos Arguedas (PhD candidate, Department of Plant and Agroecosystem Sciences); Mia Keady (PhD candidate, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies); and Meg Wilson (PhD student, Department of Art History).

Campos Arguedas will examine dormancy in multiple tree and shrub species to evaluate how different winter temperature patterns affect their cold hardiness and chilling accumulation responses. The findings from this research will provide novel insights into basic aspects of winter biology, increase practical understanding of how environmental conditions affect trees and shrubs, and inform climate change adaptation strategies for forest management.

Keady will investigate the rate at which remnant and restored prairies in southwest Wisconsin build soil carbon, as well as how environmental soil factors such as texture, mineralogy, and moisture influence soil carbon accumulation. This research, which builds on Keady’s prior work as the 2022–2023 Arboretum Leopold Fellow, will test theories related to mineral saturation, build on a long-term dataset, and advance understanding of prairie soils’ capacity for carbon storage in the face of climate change.

Wilson will use mapping, molecular genetics, tree age assessments, and archival research to delve into the proliferation of black walnut trees within the Arboretum and along and across the borders between the Arboretum and the surrounding built landscapes. This interdisciplinary research will explore how understanding tree relationships and histories can expand and inform a land ethic.

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

—Jady Carmichael, communications specialist