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Botany students apply lessons to stopping invaders

Posted on Sep 29, 2010
Students in a botany class are taking their lessons on the road to battle an invasive plant species on Wisconsin Point in an example of academic service-learning.
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Chad Kucza, a criminal justice major from Hermantown, Minn., and other students carefully remove invasive spotted knapweed plants from a site on Wisconsin Point.

Chad Kucza, a criminal justice major from Hermantown, Minn., and other students carefully remove invasive spotted knapweed plants from a site on Wisconsin Point.

Students in Dr. Nick Danz's introductory botany course are learning how plants affect their lives - including invasive species that crowd native plants out of their natural environment.

They're also learning how to apply that knowledge by helping to identify, tally and remove an invasive species from a plot of publicly owned land along the shore of Lake Superior. Their work is part of academic service-learning at UW-Superior.

(See how the Northland's Newscenter reported on their work)

Learning and serving

"My goal is to teach them about botany and how plants are meaningful to their lives," said Danz, assistant professor of biology at UW-Superior, as he stood on a plot of sandy soil on Wisconsin Point. "My second goal is to make this a more natural place."

The work began in summer 2010 when biology majors Matt Jahnke and Don Lisdahl conducted the first plant survey in 50 years on Wisconsin Point, a peninsula that separates part of Superior Bay from Lake Superior. Working under Danz's supervision, the two students noted where invasive plant species had muscled their way into the point's Great Lakes dune environment.

The students' work was funded through the Great Lakes Innovative Stewardship Through Education Network - or GLISTEN - a program funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which supports students in service-learning projects throughout the country. As part of the grant, Danz added a segment on invasive species to his basic botany course titled Plants and People.

Uprooting the invaders

In September, Danz led his class to a site on Wisconsin Point that had been approved for their use by city officials from Superior, which owns the point. There he taught them to identify and sketch a non-native species known as spotted knapweed, a tenacious plant from Europe that thrives in sandy soils and crowds out native species. The students then used scientific method to define one-meter-square sample areas and analyze the density of knapweed in those areas.

A week later, they were back. This time their job was to carefully uproot and remove the knapweed from their sample areas. They bagged the plants and took them back to a campus lab to determine how much biomass knapweed contributed to each sample area.

With that work done, they began fanning out across broader areas to remove the knapweed plants. Later in the fall, the students will return again to Wisconsin Point to continue removing knapweed from the three-acre site.

Tools for life

Danz said the Wisconsin Point project is a good way to combine knowledge of plants and academic service-learning in a course taken mostly be students who are not majoring in science. 

"I'm trying to give them the tools to make informed decisions throughout their lives," he said. By rooting out the knapweed, they're serving the community "along the way learning about scientific method and plants."

"I hope they come away from this class knowing about botany and the extent of the problem of invasive species, and come to the realization that each of them doing something makes a difference," he added.

Project may take 10 years

Danz said he expects to keep his classes working on the site for the next five to 10 years. Common knapweed seeds can sprout up to seven years after being dropped into the soil, so ridding the site of knapweed requires a long-term commitment. As part of their work, Danz hopes to have the students plant native plants on the site

Academic Service-Learning at UW-Superior

Academic Service-Learning is an innovative teaching strategy that provides students with opportunities to deepen their knowledge and learn new skills by matching academic goals to the needs of community organizations or small businesses. Students in a course containing an Academic Service-Learning component apply concepts and skills they learn in the classroom and give that knowledge back to the community. In return, they gain practical experience while serving others. Last year about 400 UW-Superior students participated in Academic Service-Learning courses.

About the GLISTEN grant

The National Center for Science and Civic Engagement of the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is sponsoring 10 GLISTEN projects around the Great Lakes. The Western Lake Superior GLISTEN project is led by the University of Minnesota Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute, and includes UW-Superior, Lake Superior College in Duluth, and Northland College in Ashland, Wis.

Academic and community environmental groups around the Great Lakes are receiving GLISTEN funds to train undergraduate students as stewardship liaisons, who will receive leadership, service-learning and community engagement training, as well as practical, on-the-job training from community organizations.

At UW-Superior, the GLISTEN funding is helping students develop skills in science and public service, specifically in a project aimed at Great Lakes stewardship. Danz hopes the work will become part of a larger research program he wants to create to determine how the plants of Wisconsin Point have changed over the past 50 years.

News Contact: Al Miller | 715-394-8260 | amiller{atuws}
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