Studying small populations using big experiments: Reflections from an LTER Fellow

Isabela Borges is a graduate student in Sarah Fitzpatrick's lab in the Integrative Biology department at Michigan State University. Isabela won the J.S. Karling Graduate Student Research Award from the Botanical Society of America for her work on plant inbreeding on the legume-rhizobia mutualism. She is broadly interested in the feedbacks between community ecology and contemporary evolution, and their consequences for the persistence of small populations. Summer 2021 was a busy one. When I first proposed to conduct an experiment on two thousand plants, that just seemed like a nice large

Species interactions in prairie strips: Reflections from an LTER Fellow

Graduate researcher, Alice Puchalsky, is a Ph.D. student in Dr. Nick Haddad's lab at Michigan State University. Her research focus is on moths, butterflies, and interaction networks. When I began graduate school, I did not imagine myself eagerly watching a caterpillar writhe around in a plastic cup, wondering about its fate. But, that is where I found myself this past summer. I also did not imagine the delight I would feel in checking on that caterpillar the next day and finding that approximately 30 very small parasitic flies had emerged from that caterpillar’s body. I was hoping that

Scaling-up conservation practices: How much can farmers afford?

East Lansing, MI – Prairie strips planted into row crops have the potential to contribute a suite of ecosystem services, such as improved soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat. When it comes to implementation, farmers have to weigh these environmental benefits as well as the economic cost of taking land out of production. In a new study, released online by Land Economics, Michigan State University (MSU) researchers find that 20% of corn and soybean farmers in the Eastern Corn Belt are willing to convert 5% of their largest corn-soybean fields to prairie strips if paid the same

Measuring and predicting soil carbon to offset climate change

KBS Long-Term Ecological Research scientists awarded a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency to study possible climate outcomes. When an unproductive swath of farmland is planted with row crops, it results in environmental damage with little to no yield. Instead, farmers can cultivate native plants in those spaces that improve soil health and support other native species. The USDA Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, offers them financial incentives to do just that. Measuring soil carbon for improved soil health Now, Michigan State

Studying climate change effects on plant traits: Reflections from an LTER Fellow

Graduate researcher, Kara Dobson, is a Ph.D. student in Dr. Phoebe Zarnetske’s Spatial and Community Ecology (SpaCE) Lab at Michigan State University. Her research focus is on the effects of climate warming and rainfall variability on plant traits. Climate change poses a looming threat to the functioning of ecosystems worldwide. Within ecosystems, my interest lies with plants and how they respond to stress caused by climate change. The way plants respond to stress varies widely and is dependent on things such as trait differences between plant species, differences in geographic location

Global warming impacts of intensively managed agricultural landscapes in SW Michigan: Reflections from an LTER Fellow

Graduate researcher, Pietro Sciusco, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Landscape Ecology and Ecosystem Science-LEES Lab at Michigan State University. His research interest is to estimate ecological processes and their contribution to climate change in highly managed agricultural landscapes in southwestern Michigan. This is primarily through satellite data (i.e., multi-source imaging, optical and radar) and ground measurements. There is strong scientific evidence that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and industrial processes, are the major driver of climate change since the

My Spartan Summer: Creating drought conditions

The KBS LTER is featured in MSU Today's "My Spartan Summer". Original story, by Beth Brauer, can be found here. For more than 30 years, W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, located between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, has been part of the national Long-Term Ecological Research network, where MSU researchers have studied the effects of land use intensity in agricultural landscapes on yield, soil health, food webs and more. Led by MSU professor and principal investigator Nick Haddad, the MSU Kellogg Biological Research Station’s Long-Term Ecological Research team has

Kellogg Biological Station joins multi-state effort to increase the adoption of prairie strips across the Midwest

Before there were the gently rolling hills of farmland and forest we see today, southwest Michigan’s landscape included large areas of prairie habitat. Dominated by wildflowers, grasses, and sedges, these habitats were maintained by periodic fires and included oak barrens, dry sand prairies, and wetland prairies. Today, only a few remnants of Michigan’s historical prairies remain on the landscape.  Prairie strips, a conservation practice in row crops that protects soil and water while providing habitat for wildlife, are one way to restore these habitats to the

Are zebra mussels eating or helping toxic algae?

Long-term studies from the Kellogg Biological Station LTER reveal a surprising relationship. The original story, written by Emilie Lorditch, can be found on MSU Today. While invasive zebra mussels consume small plant-like organisms called phytoplankton, Michigan State University researchers discovered during a long-term study that zebra mussels can actually increase Microcystis, a type of phytoplankton known as “blue-green algae” or cyanobacteria, that forms harmful floating blooms.  “Microcystis literally means small cell, but numerous cells cluster together in colonies that can