Student Scientists Present Their Findings


Arboretum’s Earth Partnership for Schools program hosts second Student Research Conference

Outside the Arboretum Visitor Center, it was a dark, damp, decidedly cool Friday the 13th of May with a hint of impending rain. On the inside, dozens of kids were chattering, laughing, going over their presentations, and setting up posters and other displays.

It was 9 a.m. and an important day was about to begin. Students from near and far would tell each other and several interested adults what they had encountered during their investigations related to restoring plants, animals and ecosystems on or near their schools—their questions and methods, the hard data, lessons learned first-hand, the accidents and mistakes, what worked and what didn’t, and ideas for future research.

The occasion was the second K-12 Student Research Conference on Ecological Restoration, coordinated by the Arboretum’s Earth Partnership for Schools (EPS) program.

There were so many reports to be given that the presenters would divide into two simultaneous sessions, and audience members would choose which session to attend, much like a standard scientific meeting.

The first presentation in the auditorium was from four bilingual third-grade students, who presented “What Is the Best Way to Add Seeds to a Prairie?” Each spoke first in English, then in Spanish. Slides illustrated their activities and results.

The subjects of the 18 talks and nine poster presentations were as varied as the topics one sees in an ecology text: habitat preferences of bluebirds, prairie butterflies, ecology of an urban park, soil seedbanks, storm water management, rain garden infiltration rates, Wisconsin effigy mounds, and so on.

Beautiful student artwork of native flora and fauna was also exhibited. EPS plans to have students write articles based on their research and produce conference proceedings that they will publish on the Internet.

Some of the reports, such as “The Pretty Plant Problem,” were cautionary tales. In this project, high school juniors compared the prairie plant species sold by 36 local commercial nurseries with the comprehensive list of plants found in Wisconsin prairies and savannas.

They found that the nurseries sold primarily the pretty, easy-to-grow species, resulting in low biodiversity in plantings—an unhealthy, poorly sustainable situation. They found even the seed mixes for sale were not diverse. They concluded that the public and nurseries need to be better educated to create demand for more species.

After lunch, participants gathered in the auditorium and staff from the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center gave a breath-taking introduction to Wisconsin’s birds of prey while walking about holding live birds and discussing their behaviors. The birds included a screech owl, a barn owl, a kestrel, a red-tailed hawk and a bald eagle.

The day ended with guided tours of the Arboretum’s restored prairies and forests. The young ecologists left for home even more excited than when they arrived.

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.