Learn more about the recipients of Arboretum Research Fellowships:

2022 Research Fellows


Mia Keady
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Advisors: Randy Jackson and Thea Whitman
Roots, litter, deep soil, and microbes – investigating the paradigm shift of soil organic matter persistence

Soil is the greatest terrestrial carbon stock, yet the formation and persistence of carbon in soil is being re-examined. Soil carbon is stored within soil organic matter (SOM) – the living, dead, and decomposing fraction of soil. SOM composition, formation, and stability was thought to be influenced by aboveground factors such as the chemical composition of leaf litter, but recent work has suggested the importance of belowground biological factors. Roots, deep soil, and microbes may be more important to SOM persistence than aboveground litter. I propose to study the influence of roots, litter, soil depth, and microbes on SOM persistence. I will assess these factors using three experimental approaches: (i) the detrital input and removal experiment (DIRT) plots located in Curtis prairie, Noe woods, and Wingra woods, (ii) a re-sampling of restored and remnant prairies conducted twenty years ago by Kucharik et al. (2006), and (iii) a laboratory incubation to evaluate soil microbial carbon use efficiency (CUE) from samples collected in the DIRT and prairie comparisons. CUE assesses the amount of carbon that microbes commit to increasing their biomass (population size) compared to how much carbon is respired as CO2. In the DIRT and prairie observations, I will collect soil samples to analyze total carbon and I will assess SOM stability by sieving samples into two SOM pools that vary in size and stability (particulate organic matter vs. mineral-associated organic matter). Soil samples will be collected between habitats, across treatments with and without root and litter presence, and across soil depth. Soil microbial communities will be characterized by CUE and molecular DNA sequencing. The proposed research will address gaps in our understanding of belowground factors contributing to SOM stability and has the potential to aid belowground management to increase carbon stocks in the face of climate change.

Mia began her PhD in Environment and Resources at UW–Madison in 2021. She received a master’s degree in biology from George Mason University in 2020 and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 2014.

“I believe an interdisciplinary approach to our many environmental challenges is the only way to find solutions and bridge interests.”


Benjamin Douglas
Department of Psychology
Advisor: Markus Brauer
Behavioral Tests of Social Norms Messaging in Environmental Education

As we continue to feel the effects of anthropogenic climate change, the importance of fostering a community that prioritizes relationships with the environment, centered around a strong land ethic, is paramount. The Arboretum’s education and enrichment programs are designed to support such a community. From a social psychological perspective, behavior change (including the decision to participate in an educational program) is largely dependent on the social context for that behavior and one’s social identity. Social norms messages leverage this social identity by highlighting the approved behavior of one’s peers and thus encourage behavior change. However, not all social norms messages are equally effective as they can differ along multiple dimensions. For example, we do not know how a static positive descriptive norm compares with a dynamic negative descriptive norm. To compare the effectiveness of the multiple dimensions of social norms, I propose a study in which we simultaneously test the effectiveness of each combination of social norms messages (15 messages in total) at encouraging visitors in the Arboretum and Madison community members more broadly to participate in the Arboretum’s educational programs. Over the next two years, we will answer these critical questions about social norms messaging and environmental education and thus help foster the land ethic in the Madison community.

Ben began his PhD in psychology at UW–Madison in 2020. He received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Kenyon College in 2018.

“Climate change is the greatest threat to our existence and well-being. It is nothing short of terrifying. Yet, the actions needed to prevent disastrous climate outcomes – individual behavior change, shifts in climate policy, actions by corporations to reduce carbon emissions – have yet to be realized. While the lack of action is a cause for alarm, it is also a call to action for social psychologists, such as myself, whose research is focused on these goals.”

Adrianna Gorsky
Department of Integrative Biology, Center for Limnology
Advisors: Emily Stanley and Hilary Dugan
Overlooked and understudied: Urban and eutrophic ponds as greenhouse gas hotspots

Wet retention ponds are becoming more numerous as urban areas expand, and stormwater engineering practices are shifting toward slowing the flow of water off the landscape to enhance flood reduction and nutrient retention. The City of Madison, Wisconsin, and its surrounding suburbs are representative of many Midwestern landscapes that are influenced by both urban and agricultural stressors. The Arboretum provides a great landscape for a comparison study of stormwater ponds, with a range of urban to more protected surrounding landcover types. The proposed study would monitor five ponds within the Arboretum for greenhouse gas production, during both the summer and ice-covered season, with a particular focus on methane emissions. The goal is to better understand the drivers of gas production and the functionality of these ponds, which are increasingly being recognized as greenhouse gas hotspots. We expect the surrounding land use, pond age, morphological characteristics, and aquatic plant coverage to influence gas concentrations. Given the ubiquity of small, eutrophic water bodies regionally, our observations can better understand and quantify greenhouse gas production in temperate urban ponds.

Adrianna began her PhD in freshwater and marine sciences at UW–Madison in 2021. She received a master’s degree in freshwater and marine sciences from UW–Madison in 2021 and a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences from University of Virginia in 2016.

“My long-term career goal is to conduct environmental research that shapes management applications in the realm of water quality. I want to have the autonomy as a scientist to develop new projects and be the one generating the questions. I am interested in a position that develops relevant and impactful methods and tools for solving challenging environmental problems. This fellowship would help strengthen the skills to be an effective communicator and collaborator, which is essential for accomplishing my professional goals.”

Michelle Homann
Department of Integrative Biology
Advisor: Ellen Damschen
The role of climate and priority effects in tallgrass prairie community assembly

Grasses are an inexpensive and resilient addition to native seed mixes used for prairie restoration. As such, they are often seeded at high densities as an early step in restoration. This practice of overseeding can lead to restorations that are predominately composed of grasses, impacting community assembly and diversity over the long term. Additionally, a changing climate is likely to impact native prairie grasses and forbs differently, creating pressures that alter plant-plant interactions during assembly. This research will examine the effects of planting order in combination with projected climate change manipulations in tallgrass prairie communities. This study will take place through a controlled mesocosm experiment as well as through analysis of existing plant community data at the UW–Madison Arboretum, outlying, and non-Arboretum properties. 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 will increase the predictability of restoration outcomes to inform changes in land management techniques.

Michelle began her PhD in integrative biology at UW–Madison in 2021. She received a bachelor’s degree in environmental biology from UW–La Crosse in 2019.

“Developing and communicating results that are useful for fellow scientists, while also accessible to landowners and land managers, is a skill often lacking in academia—a gap that I hope to bridge while earning my PhD and throughout my career in restoration ecology.”

Past Fellows


Research Fellowships (one year)

Roberto Carrera-Martínez, Department of Integrative Biology
Exploring the distribution of invasive earthworms and exotic plants and indirect interactions: Indications of invasional meltdown or disturbance-mediated establishment?

Mary-Claire Glasenhardt, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Community dynamics of an 86-year-old tallgrass prairie restoration: Curtis Prairie’s current conditions, temporal change, and land management

Dana Johnson, Department of Soil Science
Impact of non-native Amynthas spp. on soil structure, fungal biomass, and fungal diversity in forest soils


Leopold Fellowship (two years)

Katherine Charton, Department of Integrative Biology
Effects of management and precipitation on woody encroachment in tallgrass prairie

Research Fellowships (one year)

Erin Crone, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology
Ecology of urban herpetofauna in Madison, Wisconsin

Anna Skye Harnsberger, Department of Entomology
Effects of local and landscape characteristics on native prairie butterfly communities

Nick Hoffman, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Stormwater history: A fifty-year reconstruction of the runoff-mediated disturbance load to Curtis Pond and Curtis Prairie

Carson Keller, Department of Zoology
Do invasive species modify small mammal trophic interactions and generate predictable behavioral changes?


Research Fellowships (one year)

Jared Beck, Department of Botany
Contagious trees? Characterizing spatial patterns and ecological factors influencing the local distribution of trees in southern Wisconsin

Erin Crone, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology
Interactions between non-native earthworms and native amphibians in the UW–Madison Arboretum

Rachel Jordan, Department of Botany
How will Wisconsin’s native conifers respond to winter warming?

Theresa Vander Woude, Department of Life Sciences Communication and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Opinion leaders: Activating the Arboretum’s “Neighborshed”

Science Communications Fellowship (one year)

Liz Anna Kozik, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Public Engagement Focused on Restoration Ecology