Meet Lauren Tisdale, TWI’s summer research intern

Lauren during a previous summer internship at a South African wildlife sanctuary.

The Wetlands Initiative is happy to welcome Lauren Tisdale as a 2016 summer intern. Lauren will be working on a new research project at TWI’s Dixon Waterfowl Refuge that is examining benefits to water and soil quality from restoring longtime farmland back to prairie and savanna at the Refuge’s new Hickory Hollow tract.

TWI has partnered with the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC) for the multi-year research project, and Lauren’s internship has been made possible by an NGRREC program. She will be working closely over the summer with TWI’s senior restoration ecologist, Dr. Gary Sullivan, and NGRREC’s Dr. John Sloan, the lead scientists for the project.

Originally from West Bloomfield, Michigan, Lauren will be a senior at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor next fall. She is an environmental science major with a specialization in conservation biology, which drew her to the internship opportunity at the Dixon Refuge. “I'm looking forward to gaining valuable experience in measuring soil and water quality and helping to restore habitats at the Refuge,” Lauren told TWI staff.

The 283-acre Hickory Hollow parcel was acquired by TWI in December 2014 and sits along the southeast edge of the Dixon Refuge. Most of the new parcel has been used to grow corn and soybeans for decades, creating the opportunity to monitor and document how soil characteristics and hydrology change as TWI restores the agricultural tract to native prairie and savanna habitat.

Restoration of prairie and savanna systems at this scale is rare, so there is very little data on how below-ground characteristics such as groundwater levels, nitrate concentrations, and carbon storage dynamics are affected by native plant communities as they develop during restoration. While all very technical sounding, TWI and NGRREC’s research findings will help answer practical questions related to the role of restored landscapes in improving water quality through nitrate capture and moderating climate change through carbon sequestration.

Throughout the summer Lauren will be collecting soil samples at Hickory Hollow, where restoration is just starting, and in the Dore Seep, the area of the Refuge into which the new tract drains. As time permits she’ll also work with the restoration team led by the Dixon Refuge’s site manager, Rick Seibert.

Lauren’s internship at the Dixon Refuge might not be as exotic as a previous one she did at a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa, but the site is at its most beautiful during the summer, whether paddling on the lakes or hiking along the wetland and prairie trails. Welcome to the Illinois River Valley, Lauren.