Siera Stuart | March 4, 2020
During the 2019 fall semester, 10 students took the Restoration Ecology course offered at Marian University and taught by David Benson, Ph.D., professor of biology and science director of the Nina Mason Pulliam Ecolab. Restoration Ecology is the study and practice of restoring degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems and habitats. The students were able to learn ecological restoration practices and techniques through hands-on learning in the Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab on campus. At the beginning of the semester, each student was assigned an acre of habitat in the EcoLab. The students were asked to restore their acre throughout the course of the semester.
To do this, according to one student, Siera Stuart, they “learned how to conduct site assessments and vegetation surveys to determine what was currently within our sites. Then we started creating a restoration plan. We wrote invasive species management protocols and determined the best methods to restore our acres.”
Each student was expected to spend 10+ hours in the EcoLab working on their site. They learned how to use the brush cutter and how to adapt to different weather conditions.
Another student, Zach Harper, stated, “I initially took this class because I was interested in identifying plants and animals, but Restoration Ecology taught me so much more than just the names of plants. Our sites contained different plant communities and had a range of soil, light, and hydrology. I’d say this was my favorite aspect of the class because we were all doing similar things with slightly different goals.”
Dr. Benson actively worked with each student to help them restore their site and each student organized a volunteer day for their site. At the end of the semester, each student had written a complete management plan that included history, assessments, protocols, seed mixes and tree/shrub plans for the future while also working hands-on to restore their acre.
Another student, Colleen Schena, writes, “As a late bloomer in my love for ecology, the class provided me a unique opportunity to explore in-depth what the days of a restoration ecologist tend to look like. I learned an incredible amount about what it takes to restore habitat, even on a small scale; I learned even more about the history of the EcoLab that I love wholeheartedly. From vegetation surveys under the hot, humid sun to felling Phragmites australis with a brush cutter, I found that I quickly fell in love with the work. This class helped me find a passion I had no clue I had!”
Hopefully, you will see some of these students continue work in their acre in the EcoLab, and if you do, be sure to say hi and thank them for their hard work!