Science Day Spotlights Research at the Arboretum

Carly Ziter presents at Science Day, 2017.

Carly Ziter presents at Science Day, 2017.

UW–Madison students and scientists shared eleven presentations at the 17th-annual Arboretum Science Day on February 9. The inquisitive audience learned about recent research on plants, insects, mammals, invasive species, stormwater, climate change, and possible futures for the Yahara Watershed.

Rachel Toczydlowski (PhD student in botany, speaker) investigates if traits that influence jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) morphological characteristics are genetically or environmentally determined. She collected seeds from 12 Wisconsin locations and conducted a common garden experiment at the Arboretum. Her research shows that seeds collected from similar but separate habitats and then grown in the same site exhibited different rates of growth and survivability, suggesting that these scattered populations have unique genetic differences.

Marie Johnston (Photo: Susan Day)

Marie Johnston (postdoc in soil science, poster), Katie Laushman (MS student in environmental studies, speaker), and Carly Ziter (PhD student in zoology, speaker) study different aspects of the invasive Asian jumping worm (Amynthas spp) and its effects in Wisconsin ecosystems. Marie’s research focuses on: 1) documenting jumping worm cocoon abundance in Arboretum forests, 2) the feasibility of rearing jumping worms in the laboratory, 3) how cocoons respond to cold and heat, to better understand how they survive winter and if they can survive composting, and 4) the persistence of earthworm-worked soil aggregates. This research will be completed by mid-summer 2017. Katie has documented invasive earthworm spread in Gallistel and Wingra woods, which has raised questions about potential competition with previously established European earthworm populations. Carly investigates the interaction between two invasive species—the jumping worm and common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)—to understand if they help each other succeed. Her preliminary results indicate that there is no interaction, which means conservationists can tackle these two species independently.

Peter Guiden (PhD student in zoology, speaker) has tracked the impact of common buckthorn on small mammals since 2014. His research shows that in habitats without buckthorn, most small mammals consume native plant seeds near woody debris, which offers them shelter from predators. In buckthorn-invaded habitat, however, the animals consumed seeds over a wider area. These changes in foraging behavior were also associated with more small mammals using the space, suggesting that seeds may need to disperse farther in theses habitats so they aren’t all consumed.

Marcus Mueller (Photo: Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Another mammal study, the Urban Canid Project, radio-collars and tracks red foxes and coyotes in Madison to better understand the day-to-day ecology of these animals, their habitat use, and their relationship to humans and each other. Marcus Mueller (MS student in forest and wildlife ecology, speaker) presented observations from the third year of research. Along with radio-collar monitoring, the project relies on citizen reports of fox and coyote. The Arboretum’s large habitat acreage plays an important role in this project that aims to promote positive coexistence between humans and urban wildlife.

The team of Nicholas Thrun and Vinicios Frreira-de-Freitas (BS student and PhD student in entomology, poster) collected mosquitos at the Arboretum in 2016 to begin compiling baseline data on species found here. They are still analyzing data, but so far they have identified 21 species—making the Arboretum a mosquito diversity hotspot.

Larry Werner (PhD student in forest and wildlife ecology, poster) focuses on how future climate change will affect subnivium habitat in the Great Lakes region. This space between the ground and snowpack is critical habitat for overwintering plants and animals, such as the wood frog. Larry’s research investigates how these amphibians might adapt to subnivium changes caused by warming conditions.

Elizabeth Buschert (Photo: Brad Herrick)

Stormwater is an ever-present challenge at the Arboretum. Elizabeth Buschert (MS student in environmental studies, poster) studies the role of stormwater on phosphorus loads in Curtis Prairie. Her results are preliminary, but it appears that phosphorus stored in the prairie soil may contribute to the nutrient levels found in stormwater that has flowed through it.

Graduate students in the Botany 455 course (poster) teamed up to examine species richness along Curtis Prairie’s southern border. They found greater species richness along the edge of the prairie compared to the interior; however, invasive species were also more prevalent along the edge versus the interior. Neither soil pH nor soil moisture were determining factors in species richness, leading the group to surmise that the prairie’s more disturbed edges resulted in greater numbers of both native and exotic species.

Dr. Eric Booth (assistant research scientist, agronomy and civil and environmental engineering, speaker) discussed the thought-provoking and collaborative Yahara 2070 project, which explores possible futures for the Yahara Watershed and humans who live there. These futures are based on different scenarios: failing to prepare for climate change, valuing community, advancing technological innovation, and government protection of freshwater resources. These stories are a useful scientific tool for focusing research questions and thinking about long-term change and uncertainty.

—Brad Herrick, Arboretum ecologist