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Au Sable Partners With Michigan DNR, Fish and Wildlife Service and Trout Unlimited in New Research

Apr 18, 2016

The signs of spring are now clear at Au Sable’s Great Lakes campus. Birds which had migrated south for a warmer winter are beginning to return and young green shoots are pushing their way up through the earth. As the markers of spring show summer is on its way, the research program will also soon begin in full force. Focusing on three areas of study, teams lead by Au Sable’s Executive Director Dr. Fred Van Dyke and Associate Executive Director Dr. Dave Mahan and staffed by research students from throughout the country will be working on Reforestation Management, Kirtland’s Warbler, and Boardman River studies starting in May.

The Reforestation team will again this year be studying which combination of tree species and management treatment supports the highest survival rate of trees on abandoned oil well pads, which normally do not reforest naturally. This study has been funded by ConocoPhillips Company and Shell Exploration and Production Company with the approval and cooperation of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. White oak, red oak, jack pine, and red pine on these pads are planted in areas treated with disking (creating soil aeration and competitor free space), fertilization (providing higher nutrient levels), disking and fertilizing (soil aeration, no competitors, and extra nutrients) and no treatment (experimental control) areas. The team of Emily Weaver (Geneva College) and Joseph Tolsma (Northwestern College, Iowa) will measure the survival and growth rates of each species in each treatment.

The Kirtland's warbler team of Erin Hillman (Eastern University) and Cory Snyder (Greenville College), partnering with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will compare the densities of Kirtland's warbler and their rate of nesting success in stands of young jack pine and red pine stands. The warbler is an Endangered Species traditionally considered an extreme jack pine specialist, using only stands of jack pine in stands five to fifteen years of age. As warbler populations have begun to increase and use new areas, they have begun to use red pine, a species more widespread in their breeding area and more economically valuable than jack pine. If this study demonstrates that red pine can be successfully used by Kirtland's warblers as breeding habitat, managers will have greater flexibility in creating habitat, and potentially increased support from the timber industry in their efforts, since red pine planted for warblers would continue to grow after the warblers cease to use it, and could then be harvested when trees are older and larger.

The Boardman team will be reexamining the response of the aquatic macroinvertebrates to removal of the Brown Bridge Dam in Michigan’s Boardman River. Funded by the Adams Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and the Boardman Dam Removal Implementation Team, work over the past few years has demonstrated that the macroinvertebrate community below the dam was initially reduced due to the disturbance of the removal.  However, results from last summer confirmed a strong recovery of most of the organisms. Analysis of these organisms in 2016 should indicate whether or not the community recovery has continued. Research students Jessica Tinklenberg (Taylor University) and Alison Goetz (Thomas Edison State College) will be working with Dr. Mahan on this project.

Au Sable is happy to have the 2016 research teams on board this summer and be able to engage with the local community and ecosystems through research. We’re honored to be partners with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Trout Unlimited and private industry to begin and continue investigations that will serve protect and restore God’s earth. The teams look forward to a fruitful and busy season in the field.