Student in Introductory Biology (125: Genes, Evolution, and Development) work on a lab project in the winter that requires collecting their very own specimens in the Arboretum. Students trek into the Arb through the snow to gather goldenrod galls, which contain the larvae of gall flies. When these flies lay their eggs inside goldenrod stems, the plant’s response is to grow a shell around the intruder. Students take the galls back to the lab, crack them open, and then analyze the genetic characteristics of the larvae inside.
Students in Ecosystem Ecology (321) with Professor Daniel Hernández conduct a major research project each year in teams. Some groups of students have studied the dynamics of regrowth in restored prairies in the Arb. In the fall of 2015, students collected data from multiple prairie patches which had been planted at different times, including soil samples, plant height measurements, and species cover measurements. They performed laboratory tests for soil microbial enzyme activity and nitrogen mineralization rates, and compiled their results in order to write reports on the changes in restored prairies over time and what factors might be responsible for those changes.
In Population Ecology (352), every student gets two opportunities to design and execute their own field studies in the Arb. The first time around, Professor Mark McKone assigns them to a system and helps them choose an interesting question to ask about it. How do worm communities differ between prairie restorations? What are the fitness tradeoffs to sex determination in hermaphroditic flowers? What factors determine the survival of oak gall wasps?
After that, it’s up to the students to find their own natural mystery and think of a way to solve it. There’s no telling what they’ll get up to: bushwhacking through a successional forest in the farthest reaches of the Arb, crawling around gopher mounds in the prairies, or even swimming down the Cannon in search of mussels.
Biology professor David Hougen-Eitzman has found the Arboretum to be an “indispensable” resource for several of his classes. These include Entomology (238) and Energy Flow in Biological Systems (126). For Entomology in particular, the diverse environments of the Arboretum allow students to collect a wide array of insect species, which they preserve and pin, for a final display by the end of the course. Students can be found roaming around campus and the Arboretum with large nets and glass bottles, searching for specimens. Students in Biology 126, the second introductory course, venture into the Arboretum to study black knot fungus, seeking to discover what controls its distribution.