Wallace participated in an ongoing research project monitoring the plant species at a site in Grand Mere State Park. Facebook.
Wallace par­tic­i­pated in an ongoing research project mon­i­toring the plant species at a site in Grand Mere State Park. Facebook.

After hiking through grass almost twice her height and fending off an abun­dance of malignant ticks at Grand Mere State Park, sophomore Andrea Wallace pre­sented her research on a restoration site at the park Oct. 22 at the Michigan Con­sortium of Botanists.

Wallace par­tic­i­pated in an ongoing project by Pro­fessor of Biology Ranessa Cooper, who, in 2004, began mon­i­toring the plant diversity in a 40-acre sand mining site in the park near Stevensville, Michigan, on the coast of Lake Michigan, where the Department of Natural Resources attempted to re-establish plant life. Unlike many restoration projects that rein­troduce just one single species, this project intro­duced 150 species of plants.

Now, Cooper and her stu­dents survey the site every five years, sharing their data with the DNR. Their research results help determine which species are most suc­cessful at growing in this type of envi­ronment long-term for other con­ser­vation projects.

“Their work will help us assess whether the recla­mation at this site is pro­gressing as intended, or whether we need to intervene with man­agement actions to get things back on track,” said Glenn Palmgren, one of the primary DNR ecol­o­gists working on the project, in an email.

Based on pre­vious data about which species were present at the site in 2011 and the initial list of plants the DNR rein­tro­duced, Wallace was able to analyze her own data and monitor which species had become more abundant and which species were new to the site.

“You want to see which species that were planted still persist and, if they haven’t, what other types of plants are col­o­nizing the area,” Cooper said. “Even though we haven’t seen some plants in the past that were on the planting list, it seems the habitat is just right for them to establish on their own.”

The team was also able to help remove an invasive species present in parts of the site, and rec­om­mended this action be taken based on their data about its increased abun­dance.

Wallace par­tic­i­pated in the project as a part of her biology research for her major, working in con­junction with Cooper to identify plant species present at the site, quantify their rel­ative abun­dance, and collect samples of dif­ferent species.

“It was def­i­nitely trial by fire,” Wallace said. “There were over 180 species at the site that I had to be familiar with — so lots of vocab­ulary and iden­ti­fi­cation really quickly.”

Wallace, Cooper, and other student vol­un­teers drove to Grand Mere as often as once a week to collect samples from mid-April through October.

Once the research team had col­lected its data, Wallace pressed, mounted on paper, and iden­tified by species each of the plant samples.

“Showy flower plants were easy, but most of them were grasses and sedges,” said Megan Edwards ’12, who worked on the project her senior year. “Even if they were the same kind, they might not look alike, so a lot of it was fig­uring out whether they were the same or dif­ferent species.”

Cooper said the project has increased her knowledge of Michigan’s flora and pro­vided her stu­dents with an oppor­tunity to do mean­ingful research.

“This has been really great project,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot. I think all of the stu­dents have learned a lot. Any oppor­tunity to be in nature and be a good con­ser­va­tionist, I think those are all good things.”