By Abbey Goers, UW-Stout
Eleven students from universities across the nation conducted research this summer to understand and improve the health of the Red Cedar watershed, which is affected by eutrophication – phosphorus and nitrogen pollution, causing blue-green algae blooms and dissolved oxygen levels.
UW-Stout professors led the LAKES REU students in their research across anthropology, psychology, biology and engineering disciplines. The LAKES students and mentors presented their research to community members during an open house in August.
LAKES student Abby Cullen is an environmental science senior at UW-Stout and Menomonie community member.
“The issues facing Lake Menomin have caught my attention and curiosity. I am mainly interested in the effects agriculture, from conventional to regenerative, has on land, water and wildlife,” Cullen said. “I am particularly interested in entomology and pollinator ecology, both in manmade landscapes and natural landscapes.”
She has studied why farmers do or do not implement certain management practices, such as no-till and cover crops, and sifted through data to explore land management practices and how they affect soil and nutrient runoff.
“My research experience has been very eye-opening. Working with qualitative data is very different from quantitative data, and it has been a great, new experience for me,” Cullen said.
The Red Cedar watershed is nearly 1,900 square miles and includes parts of Barron, Burnett, Chippewa, Dunn, Pierce, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer, St. Croix and Washburn counties. It features approximately 40,000 acres of open water and approximately 4,900 miles of rivers and streams.
UW-Madison environmental science senior Laura Flucke agrees and enjoys collaborating with students across various fields.
“LAKES allows me to gain interdisciplinary problem-solving skills that will improve the way I understand and address problems in the future. I have received valuable insight into how scientific research is conducted, as well as improved analytical skills, which I can use regardless of career,” Flucke said.
Flucke, of Overland Park, Kan., is also studying cartography and geographic information systems. Her interests are centered around water quality and freshwater ecosystems, particularly relating to nutrient pollution and harmful algal blooms, she said.
Her LAKES research focuses on the nutrient runoff from croplands that impacts the quality of the watershed.
“Using GIS, I have identified croplands that are more prone to nutrient runoff, due to variables such as slope of the land. Conversion of these croplands to pasture could reduce nutrient runoff in areas that would make the greatest impact,” Flucke said.
Cullen hopes that open house attendees will understand the complexities of eutrophication and the large-scale, community effort it will take to remediate nutrient pollution in Lake Menomin.
While she sees flaws in the current agricultural system, from an ecological and human perspective, she believes the general public often blames agriculture alone.
“Although it plays a part, there are many factors that affect eutrophication, including the geomorphic features of the watershed, lawn fertilization and leaking septic tanks,” Cullen said. “There is no simple solution. If we want to see real change in the agricultural system today, there needs to be increased assistance and funding for farmers across the board. There are changes that can be made that benefit farmers, the land and the watershed.”
Cullen will graduate in December and is applying to graduate school and exploring job options. She plans to earn her graduate degree in entomology and study pollinator ecology. She feels that the undergraduate research experience is valuable for her future endeavors.
LAKES REU 2022 students are from universities across nine states. The program was founded at UW-Stout in 2014. It is funded by the National Science Foundation and by a recent $29,382 grant from the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin to provide hands-on training to undergraduates.
The Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin Steering Committee will meet at UW-La Crosse on Aug. 17 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
- Clarify objectives
- Review proposed Mission statement
- Review proposed Vision statement
- Connect outcomes of strategic conversation to planning meeting
- Review strategic themes
- Goal development
- Measures of Success
- Next steps & Wrap up
Want to explore one of the most unique aquatic ecosystems in the world? Join the School of Freshwater Sciences’ International Research Experience for Students this fall. The program provides an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students at any higher education institution to enroll in a field research experience in the Southern Yucatán Peninsula at the Laguna Bacalar International Research Station on the campus of CREN Normal College in Bacalar Mexico. Credit and non-credit options available.
Acceptance will be on a rolling basis until filled with final notifications no later than August 26, 2022.
This experience is provided by the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee through the support of the National Science Foundation’s International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program.
On Aug. 17, 2022, the Freshwater Collaborative Steering Committee will participate in a strategic conversation at UW-La Crosse from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m.
Agenda coming soon
Nine undergraduates from UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls spent an intensive two weeks in June exploring and conducting research in rivers, watershed and creeks through enrollment in a new Western Wisconsin Advanced Freshwater Science field course.
Funded by the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, the hands-on field course is a collaboration among UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls, UW-Stout and UW Oshkosh that brought together instructors with expertise in geology, biology, environmental science, geography and agricultural science to provide a unique opportunity for students majoring in degrees related to freshwater science. The students involved included biology, ecology, environmental geography and environmental science majors.
The goal was to create a field experience involving skills and tools used across a variety of freshwater science disciplines. Maggie Guetschow, environmental geography major at UW-Eau Claire, appreciated the multidisciplinary approach.
“You’re going to have to have collaboration between fields in order to solve these really complex issues that we’re looking at with our environment,” she says. “It’s very important and incredible to have a course like this that you can have so many people with so many different pieces of expertise that they’re able to give us and give us background in their different areas of study.”
Sarah Vitale, an assistant professor at UW-Eau Claire and the lead instructor, says this type of course didn’t previously exist within a traditional degree curriculum.
“There are always limitations to what an individual department or institution can offer, and the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin is breaking those barriers, allowing us to build something beneficial for students and faculty in the UW system,” Vitale says.
Vitale says the instructors were impressed with the level of student engagement and positive attitudes — even when it was pouring rain and cold. Students participated in a diverse number of field experiences during the eight-day course, including:
- bacteria sampling and culture analysis in Lake Menomin
- exploring urban Galloway Creek restoration site
- touring land use practices in the Red Cedar Watershed
- water quality sampling and biotic index analysis in Gilbert Creek
- hydrogeologic field assessment in the South Fork Kinnickinnic River
- an up-close tour of the River Falls Agriculture practices
- building and installing lysimeters
- water quality assessment and fish counts in Pine Lake, the Little Niagra Creek and Beaver Creek
- exploring phytoremediation practices at WRR Environmental
Not only did students benefit from the range of experiences and the multidisciplinary approach, but they gained perspective about their future career options.
“It really helps me get a feel for what kinds of opportunities I can have when I graduate, and also it helps me figure out what I like to do and what I don’t like to do,” says Sydney Schermerhorn, an ecology and environmental biology major at UW-Eau Claire. “That’s also really helpful in finding a career path that I want to go into.”