The five 2018 Prairie Partners Interns working this summer in the Preserve, thanks to the financial support of the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, also have much appreciated educational opportunities. The Friends have organized "seminars over lunch" for the students, when they meet experts in certain areas of research and ecology. On July 12th, interns Henry Wiedemeyer, Tanner Pettit, Daniel Joannes, Jackson Pertzborn, and Siena Muehlfeld learned about the fascinating urban canid program from David Drake, Professor of Wildlife Ecology and creator of this program. He visited the Intern group at Frautschi Point entrance with coyote and fox pelts and tracking devices and engaged students with the history and explanation of the program.
The following Thursday, July 19th, Adam Gundlach, Preserve Field Projects Coordinator who supervises the interns, provided the educational component of the program with a presentation on "Fire Ecology—Science & Practice of Controlled Fire”. Prepared with handouts of photos of pre- and post-burned sites, drip torches, traffic warning signs and protective garb, Adam presented a comprehensive introduction to the burning practices and procedures in the Preserve—which was underscored by the siren of a passing fire engine! Adam was joined by Craig Maier, Outreach Specialist, who is teaching the Nelson Institute Science and Practice of Prescribed Fire summer seminar with Paul Zedler. Maier's three students accompanied the Interns to witness the benefits of prescribed burns in Eagle Heights Woods where fire is one of the important tools in the rejuvenation of that part of the Preserve At the Biocore Prairie the Interns were met by Seth McGee of the Friends Board and Biocore Lab Manager. Seth discussed with them the long-term fire research plots for students at the Biocore site, who study the effects of fire on plant, animal and microbial communities. Seth was pleased that there was a math major among the students and highlighted that modern day fire management relies heavily on modeling algorithms. He is excited that the Interns are learning about these studies and hopes that this type of research will "spread". Photos and reports by Doris Dubielzig.
Seth Mcgee, Lab Manager of the Biocore program, gave a fascinating behind-the-scenes summer look at natural restoration efforts and student related research projects. The UW Biocore Prairie provides a unique and successful natural classroom experience that supports the goals of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Biocore students experience the land ethics concept and carry it into their future professions. They learn effective research methods in this outdoor laboratory by beginning with the question "Why is this this way?" The big steps are to come up with a question, take observations, posit possible answers, and develop testable methods to investigate answers.
Participants tried out some Why questions, beginning with the leaves of Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum). "Why is the underside of these leaves so rough?" They feel bumpy. One possible answer is that these bumps increase surface area and thus photosynthesis. The super-sized leaves seem to be like giant solar panels. Looking at the underside with a microscope, we discovered honey-comb like patterns with tiny hairs standing upright, almost like scales. "Why would the leaves have these hairs?" These hairs would help to trap water. "Why do the broad sides of the leaves face the west and east?". This positioning would minimize evaporation from the large leaf surface during the hotter parts of the day. All these answers would need to be tested.
We also had a chance to crush and taste the leaves of various plants. Pairie dock has a rough texture and a "piney" taste. It is related to Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium), also of the Silphium family, which has that same piney taste. Seth shared that young boys used to collect the copious resin exuded from injured parts of the plant and chew it like gum. Mountainmint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), with elegant flower sprays atop slender stems and foliage, has leaves that smell and taste distinctly like mint. Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) smells and tastes medicinal. We discussed many other plants, not listed here.
Biocore student Olympia Mathiaparanam, who came along on this walk, is researching germination questions by raising various prairie plants from seeds that do not easily germinate. She has raised a good number of seedlings of a rare Prairie bush clover (Lespedeza leptostachya), which is a federally protected rare prairie plant. Other varieties of clover in the Biocore are Slender bush clover (Lespedeza virginica) and the taller Round-headed bush clover (Lespedeza capitate).
At the Biocore shed we also had a chance to view the Biocore Prairie Journal written by the Biocore Interns for many years, the wooden door covered on the inside with the students' signatures, and the most amazing built-to scale model of the Biocore Prairie, which was conceived, produced and is updated by Seth McGee.
The walk concluded with a look at the latest prairie restoration area towards Bills Woods. The restoration is going well, with large clusters of "first arrival" prairie plants, such as Rudbeckia and Monarda, beginning to outpace the weeds. The weather held, with none of the rain and thunder predicted, Thank you, Seth, for an an excellent experience. Report and photos by Gisela Kutzbach, the Friends host.
Paul Noeldner, creator of the 4th Sunday Birding and Nature walks, greeted the 16 attendees for the walk at the entrance to Picnic Point. Paul loaned binoculars and DNR diagrams of wetland invertebrates to participants. Although the marsh is the oldest part of the Preserve, it was the first tour into it for many of the participants. Doris Dubielzig, Friends President, took the group across University Bay Drive to the dedication rock for the Class of 1918 Marsh, and reviewed the history of the site since the time of settlement in the 1850s. John Magnuson, Emeritus Professor of Limnology and past Friends President, led the group along the eastern edge of the “really disturbed” marsh to the inlet to the pump house, which is used to manage the water level of the marsh. Prof. Magnuson shared what he had learned from his own research on chloride concentrations in the marsh and from a recent tour of the marsh he took with wetland ecologists and restoration specialists. Because fluctuating water levels benefit sedge meadow plants over the cattails, the water level in the marsh should be lowered each autumn. Then, in the winter, when the ice is solid, the cattails and other plants would be cut, and, ideally, burned onsite. In the spring, flooding the marsh again would favor the diverse species of a sedge meadow.
The tour continued to the southern inlet conveying storm water drainage from the hospital complex, and along the western edge, the healthiest part of the marsh, where a variety of plants, including milkweeds and sedges flourish.
The birders in our group were happy to see the family of sandhill cranes, with two healthy colts, and to hear marsh wrens and catbirds.
In preparation for restoration of the entire marsh, Magnuson envisions testing the wetlands specialists’ suggestions in two pilot areas each a square football field in size. The first would be off the existing observation deck near the northern end of the marsh, and the second would extend beyond a floating pier installed off the path along the southeastern edge. The group on this tour responded favorably to Magnuson’s information and his suggestions for the marsh’s future. Summary by Doris Dubielzig Photos by Paul Noeldner.
On a cloudy yet beautiful June 27th morning, John Magnuson and his partner, David Harring, took 12 attendees across Lake Mendota – in two boats – to view the full expanse of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve and learn about the region’s history. We were told stories of previous inhabitants of the preserve–Black Hawk and Winnebago Native American tribes, the Frautschi family, farmers–and the transformation of the landscape over the years. Our guides also informed us about the important role of the limnology building, which due to its position between the Preserve and the urbanized city, has on occasions protected construction (e.g. of roads and parking lots) from occurring within the Preserve. Attendees were also given the opportunity to use some limnology gadgets to learn more about Lake Mendota. We raked the floor of the lake to find and identify native and invasive plant species, sampled water from the various depths of the lake, and collected and viewed microscopic zooplankton and daphnia. Summary and photos by Olympia Mathiaparanam, Friends host.
John Magnuson added the following explanations to the photos of cyanobacteria and zebra mussles below: "The green microscopic organisms are a mix of several species of Cyanobactera (often referred to as bluegreen algae). These photosynthetic organisms contain gas vacuoles that cause them to float upwards in the bottle and in the lake to bring them to the upper sunlit layers required for photosynthesis. In the clear area at the bottom of the jar the small zooplankton have swum downward. In the lake they would hide from their predators in the deeper dark layers of the lake. The water below about 2 meters on this day was darker and would reduce their visibility to the young, small fishes that feed on small zooplankton. The two visible types of zooplankton were crustaceans called Copepods and Cladocerans.
The mussel on the small dead branch that we raked from the bottom in shallow water is the Zebra Mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). A graduate student at the Center for Limnology has been researching this species since it was first discovered by a limnology laboratory class (Zoology 316) near the Limnology pier in 2015. See this Madison News article on Zebra Mussel quickly filling Lake Mendota or google: Center for Limnology Zebra Mussel."