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2009-07-13

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University of Michigan Biological Station celebrates 100 years

By Stephanie Steinberg, Daily News Editor
Published July 10, 2009

The centennial of the University of Michigan Biological Station, which occurred July 1, celebrated the station's lasting commitment to environmental education and research.

For the past 100 years, the station — located on Douglas Lake near Pellston, Mich. — has offered spring and summer classes for graduate and undergraduate students interested in studying biology in a hands-on manner.

In celebration of the station's 100th anniversary, students at the station sang "Happy Birthday" and devoured a giant birthday cake dedicated to the Biological Station.

UMBS Associate Director Karie Slavik said the station’s mission has remained the same during the past 100 years.

“We’re still focused on education and research in terms of field biology and environmental science,” Slavik said.

UMBS Director Knute Nadelhoffer said the environment has changed a lot during the last century, citing the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as the biggest alteration.

“Since the Biological Station was founded, CO2 has increased from roughly 280 parts per million to about 385 parts per million,” he said.

Nadelhoffer added that the burning of fossil fuels and cutting of forests over time have caused temperatures on Earth to rise.

“We’ve released a lot of heat trapping forces into the atmosphere and that affects everything from life up North to life at the poles,” he said.

The UMBA's research of environmental changes that have occurred in northern Michigan over the past 100 years is documented in a book titled “The Changing Environment of Northern Michigan: A Century of Science and Nature at the University of Michigan Biological Station” by Nadelhoffer along with Alan Hogg, a lecturer in the Sweetland Writing Center, and Brian Hazlett, a professor emeritus of zoology.

The book — scheduled for publication near the end of 2009 — cites UMBS records on wildlife that have been kept throughout the last century and discusses how the environment in northern Michigan has evolved during that time.

Nadelhoffer said the major theme of the book is “change.”

“We’ve covered everything from Michigan forests, wetlands, streams and lakes and then segue into environmental change and the effects of human activities on ecosystems in the north and what the future might bring,” he said.

Nadelhoffer said the station has seen a fair amount of change over 100 years.

The UMBS property has expanded to nearly 10,000 acres since Colonel and Mrs. Charles Bogardus donated about 1,400 acres to the University for research purposes in 1908, making it the University’s largest campus by acreage.

UMBS started with 14 students. Since then, nearly 10,000 students have taken classes with the program. This year, 140 students are enrolled in 15 different courses offered during spring and summer terms.

LSA senior Derek Ager took a general ecology class during spring term this year. He said he had such a great experience that he decided to enroll in summer term.

“There’s a lot of good people up here who have a lot of valuable knowledge towards a lot of different things — not necessarily just biology stuff,” Ager said, adding that he established several relationships with students and staff.

Last term, Ager started a project with a group of students involving the study of earthworms and their eating habits. Ager said staff encouraged him to return and carry on the research.

“Our group ended up getting some really good data, and the director thought it would be kind of cool if we continued it,” he said.

LSA senior Hilary Newman, a Program in the Environment concentrator specializing in plant biology, attended several sessions at UMBS in the past and took classes like ethnobotany, which discusses the historical and cultural uses of plants. She now works as an assistant for researchers, where she orders surgical equipment and coordinates events.

Newman said the biological station provides the best educational environment because students get to work in the field and students are there to learn about science.

“Everyone is so friendly, and they’re all willing to talk about what they’re doing at the Bio Station and what they’re interested in,” she said.

Newman added that the property, covered in trees and nature trails, is “absolutely gorgeous” and she enjoys living in the rustic tin huts with wooden stoves that were built in the 1920s.

Nadelhoffer said UMBS will continue to offer a scientific and a rich cultural environment for students to learn and perform research.

“Almost all the students that come, when they leave, they say this is one of the best experiences they’ve had in college,” he said.


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