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Professors receive $550,000 federal grant to study wetlands

April 17, 2013

Amanda Little, an associate professor of biology, and lecturer Jim Church secured the funding through the National Science Foundation to examine forested ephemeral ponds, which are small seasonal wetland patches that occur within larger forested areas.

The Chippewa Moraine Ephemeral Ponds Project will look at 60 of these wetlands in west-central Wisconsin over five years and research how environmental changes, the interactions of species, landscape and other factors affect the insects, amphibians, plants and water quality in the areas.

Associate Professor Amanda Little, left, and student Chelsey Baranczyk, of Oconto Falls, survey a wetland. Ephemeral ponds may flood in the spring and dry completely at other times, making them good for this research on “metacommunities,” or interconnected ecological communities.

“Research into ephemeral ponds is important, because these fish-free wetlands provide critical breeding habitat for declining populations of frog and salamander species,” Little said. “Due to their small size, ephemeral ponds are not well-protected by existing conservation laws. They are very easy to destroy through filling with dirt.

“We hope to determine which factors are most important in affecting species survival so that conservation managers can use our information to design management strategies.”

The research will be conducted in the Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area around the Ice Age Trail and the Chippewa County Forest near New Auburn, Little said.

“We have an exciting opportunity to educate citizens and our students about the importance of these ephemeral ponds through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources David R. Obey Ice Age Interpretive Center and through our courses.”

The office of U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, assisted with the grant application.

“This funding will help researchers at UW-Stout make important discoveries about the wildlife inhabiting local wetlands, helping preserve Wisconsin’s incredible biodiversity,” Kind said. “I strongly support these types of forward-thinking investments in research that not only benefit the environment and our quality of life but also help keep Wisconsin on the cutting edge of scientific innovation.”

The grant brings to 10 the number of NSF projects on campus.

“Our faculty and staff researchers have brought in about $2.6 million in NSF grants for current projects,” said Jackie Weissenburger, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic and student affairs. “That speaks volumes about our dedication to applied research at UW-Stout.”

Along with Little and Church, Professor Chuck Bomar, biology, and Assistant Professor Matt Kuchta, physics, will work on the project.

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