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NSF grant gets high school teachers involved in wetland research

Aug. 22, 2008

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University's Dr. Carla Koretsky is taking her research of local freshwater wetlands a step further by recruiting the help of two area high school science teachers.

Koretsky, associate professor of geosciences, secured a new grant from the National Science Foundation to extend her current research on the growth of purple loosestrife, a perennial wetland flowering plant that has been spreading in the marsh in the Kleinstuck Preserve in Kalamazoo.

The $18,000 Research Experiences for Teachers grant will help pay for two additional scientists--Keith Lang and Lance Goodlock, both high school science teachers from Sturgis, Mich.--to study the effects of this transported plant on the water chemistry and survival of native plants in the marsh. Through early September, Lang and Goodlock are tracking the levels of oxygen and changes in the acidity or alkalinity of the wetland water at the Kleinstuck Preserve. The NSF funding provides for a stipend and reimbursement for travel expenses of $6,800 plus another $1,000 for supplies for each teacher to take part in the project.

The teachers are using specialized microelectrode equipment to test the water trapped in between sedimentary grains in the wetland. The invasion of this foreign plant can result in the suppression of native plants and the eventual alteration of the wetland's structure and function. If the invasive plant becomes too prevalent, it can jeopardize various threatened and endangered native wetland plants and wildlife by eliminating natural foods and cover.

"Purple loosestrife was introduced as a pretty garden plant, but it has been pushing out a lot of native plants, especially in wetlands," Koretsky explains. "We're looking at this area and comparing it with some of the changes we've seen on a larger scale."

Koretsky was a recipient of a 2004 NSF Faculty Early Career Development or CAREER grant. That $471,000 grant is funding her research over five years aimed at examining significant changes to wetland hydrology and the area's plants and wildlife.

A WMU faculty member since 2000, Koretsky earned a bachelor's degree in 1992 from Washington University in St. Louis, and her master's and doctoral degrees in 1995 and 1998, respectively, from Johns Hopkins University. She did post-doctoral work at Georgia Tech.

Media contact: Deanne Molinari, (269) 387-8400, deanne.molinari@wmich.edu

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