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.”