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.”

2021 Research Fellows


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

Earthworm invasions in the north-central region of North America have considerable negative effects on most of the basic ecosystem functions. These invasions are dominated by the jumping worms (Amynthas agrestis–complex) and the European lumbricids. Some studies have suggested that these invasive earthworms may be facilitating the invasion by exotic, non-native plants, like buckthorn (Rhamnus catharica) and honeysuckles (e. g. Lonicera x bella). However, recent studies have reported neither facilitation nor mutually beneficial interactions between these invasive species. These results depend on field-based studies, which may overlook species-specific interactions (as earthworm species composition is not usually documented) and indirect interactions. Earthworm and plant invaders are known to positively respond to human disturbance and infrastructure, yet very few studies have tested whether this may explain field correlations between the invasive species. The UW–Madison Arboretum has a proud legacy of research on invasive earthworms and plants, with foundational data on the distribution of invasive species providing a unique opportunity to disentangle the ecological mechanisms underlying invasive species interactions. The purpose of this proposal is to study the interaction between anthropogenic disturbance due to infrastructure (i.e., trails, roads) and the (co-) distribution of the invasive earthworms and plants. We propose to combine field surveys and mesocosm experiments, while also conducting taxonomic and genetic work to identify earthworm species more precisely. Field surveys will include randomized sampling on a grid as well as targeted sampling of plant-invaded sites, in relation to a distance gradient from disturbed sites created by infrastructure within the UW–Madison Arboretum property. The earthworm species that shows the strongest correlation with the invasive plants will then be used in a mesocosm experiment to explore earthworms’ effect in the competition between native and invasive plants. This represents a unique opportunity to study invasions while taking into consideration time since establishment and management practices.

Roberto began his PhD in integrative biology at UW–Madison in 2020. He received his MS in forestry from University of Georgia in 2018 and BS in biology from University of Puerto Rico in 2016.

“My interests in studying earthworms started during my first Research Experiences for Undergraduates opportunity in 2013. Back then, I did not know anything about earthworms, not even that they could be invasive species, It was extremely shocking to me that there were so many unanswered questions about these incredibly humble creatures.

I was also shocked by how little people knew about my home, as some students and faculty (either at scientific meetings or on campus) were unaware that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and that we are U.S. citizens, or knew of our colonial history. Furthermore, many colleagues ignored the social issues that I felt and endured as a minority in the U.S., and some even openly questioned my abilities as a scientist because of my ethnicity. While this was daunting, especially in this formative stage in my career, I’ve since recognized that I can be a positive agent of change at institutions in the U.S. by helping to prepare other students to confront such challenges.”

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

Monitoring is a necessity in a time of climate change. Curtis Prairie is an ideal site to conduct monitoring as an early tallgrass prairie restoration with a history of vegetation surveys. Long-term monitoring is critically important to understand how ecosystems are changing over time, identify factors driving these changes, and enable evidence-based management decisions. As primary outputs, my resurvey of Curtis Prairie will: 1) create a quantitative picture of the current vegetation community, and 2) identify how diversity and distribution have changed over time at the site and species level. Additionally, I will look at the relationships between 1) vegetation and functional traits associated with ecosystem function, 2) species diversity on invasion resistance, 3) invasive species cover on species richness, and 4) effects of disturbance caused by management on diversity. Identified patterns in succession, invasion resistance, or management techniques that reduce invasive species or increase diversity, would benefit other tallgrass prairie restoration efforts.

Mary-Claire began her MS in environment and resources at UW–Madison in 2020. She received a BS in environmental science from University of Notre Dame in 2002.

“I not only want to track changes over time in our natural areas and ascertain what the data indicates, but also to generate interest in our native plants through visitors and volunteers as well as initiate community actions which broaden native species usage to become the common sub/urban landscape.

Ultimately, I want to see proactive management of our natural resources and comprehensive, connected greenspaces. I hope this will help bring back the imperiled tallgrass/savanna complex and, as a result, the dwindling wildlife that depend upon it.”

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

Invasive soil mesofauna affect all aspects of forest ecosystems from aboveground plant communities to soil structure. Soil is an important, yet hidden, part of forest ecosystems and comprises chemical, physical, and biological components. The physical structure of soil allows water to infiltrate and drain, facilitates gas exchange, provides space for root growth, and acts as habitat for micro- and meso-organisms such as fungi and earthworms. Within the soil, fungi move along soil aggregates and through pores in search of water and nutrients. Mycorrhizal fungi create symbiotic relationships with plants and trade water and nutrients for simple carbon molecules derived from plant photosynthesis. Fungi have also been shown to create macroaggregates (>250 μm in diameter), which improve soil structure. The arrival of invasive soil mesofauna may affect soil structure and fungal communities. Amynthas spp., also known as “jumping worms,” are native to southeast Asia and were first discovered in the UW–Madison Arboretum in 2013. Amynthas spp. consume forest soil organic matter at faster rates than the more common and widespread nonnative earthworm Lumbricus terrestris. The effect of Amynthas spp. on fungal biomass and diversity in Wisconsin forests has not yet been widely studied. I propose an in situ paired mesocosm experiment to analyze the effect of Amynthas spp. on soil aggregation and fungi diversity and biomass. This research will increase our understanding of the ongoing species invasion and inform land management and restoration decisions at the Arboretum.

Dana began her MS in agroecology at UW–Madison in 2018. She received a BA of in earth and planetary sciences from Northwestern University in 2016.

“Moving from Iowa to Paraguay to Wisconsin has been a physical and mental journey for me. Over the past year and a half, my view of sustainability, agriculture, and the relationship of humans to ecosystems has been profoundly changed. Today when I walk across the farmland on which I grew up, I see it differently. I see soil teeming with micro- and macroscopic life. I see lost species and potential.

Building a relationship between land and people – an important part of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic – requires us to stand still and see the natural world. We must put our hands in the soil, feel the grasses against our legs, and run our fingers over a tree. Rebuilding a connection to the land can start with youth education. It is all too easy to walk on a sidewalk or through the woods and not notice the soil beneath our feet. I hope to use my research and previous teaching experiences to build activities that allow students to experience – see, touch, smell – soil.

I believe that as a scientist I can use my research and passion for discovery to foster curiosity and scientific literacy in the next generation of scientists and critical thinkers.”

2020 Research Fellows


Katherine Charton
Department of Integrative Biology
Advisor: Ellen Damschen
Effects of management and precipitation on woody encroachment in tallgrass prairie

In an era of rapidly changing climatic conditions, anticipating the rate and extent of ecosystem change will help inform conservation priorities and adaptation efforts. Tipping points largely determine the rate at which changes in ecosystem components, including biodiversity and ecosystem services, occur, and they can result from seemingly small changes in environmental variables. Woody encroachment is one such globally occurring change thought to create tipping points reinforced by positive feedbacks and considered irreversible past certain critical thresholds. Managing these ecological thresholds in order to prevent unwanted encroachment and intervene before communities transition to an alternative stable state requires an understanding of the multiple environmental variables, and their interactions, that drive state change.

This project will examine the effects of management, climate change, and their interaction on woody invaders in tallgrass prairies. Specifically, through field work at Arboretum, outlying, and non-Arboretum properties, I will ask how established woody plants respond to the interaction of management and precipitation across a gradient of tallgrass prairie habitats and if recruitment success of woody plants differs under variable management and precipitation conditions. Results will be highly relevant to the conservation and restoration of prairie communities and to our basic understanding of disturbance and community stability. Integration with subsequent research may also provide insight into the utility of plant functional traits in determining competition outcomes between prairie and woody plants, the role of positive feedbacks in woody plant dispersal and colonization into grasslands, and the differences in ecosystem function under competing stable states as prairies move from grassland to wooded systems.

Katherine began her Doctor of Philosophy in Integrative Biology at UW–Madison in 2019. She received a Bachelor of Science in Conservation and Resources Studies from University of California, Berkeley in 2017.

“Scientists have the platform to profoundly empower people and communities to become advocates for their land through sound science.”


Anna Skye Harnsberger
Department of Entomology
Advisors: Claudio Gratton and Karen Oberhauser
Effects of local and landscape characteristics on native prairie butterfly communities

The dispersal abilities of butterflies might affect the degree to which they are affected by landscape heterogeneity, habitat patchiness, and isolation. The abundance of very mobile butterflies at a site could be determined by landscape characteristics, especially if the butterflies have a metapopulation structure or are migratory. Less mobile butterflies might be more affected by local characteristics. My experience studying monarchs on Arboretum land and throughout Wisconsin has given me the skills to assess native floral communities, evaluate pertinent landscape metrics, and interpret their relationships to butterfly abundance. I aim to apply these skills to assess butterfly diversity and abundance at Arboretum sites containing native prairie, as well as other sites in southern Wisconsin, and relate these metrics to butterfly life histories and site and landscape characteristics. Butterfly community surveys on Arboretum lands will add to current efforts to assess biodiversity.

Skye began her Master of Science in Entomology at UW–Madison in 2018. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Occidental College in 2016.

“We have a moral responsibility to document and conserve native insect species on some of the last remaining tallgrass prairies and new restorations that humans are putting in place. We also have a moral responsibility to do restorations correctly and evaluate our success in supporting insect habitat.”

Past Fellows


Research Fellowships (one year)

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

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