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College of Liberal Arts
University of Mississippi

Biology Interns Blaze Through British Columbia

Biology graduate students in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia.

Biology graduate students in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. | Photo by Diana Mullich

Fellowships from the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded three biology graduate students’ work with ecological restoration and fire ecology in the Rocky Mountain Trench area of British Columbia this summer.

“The ecosystem restoration projects in British Columbia are some of the largest and most successful in the world,” said Jason Hoeksema, associate professor of biology. “They provide a model for how partnerships can lead to healthy and successful ecosystem management that is satisfactory for numerous interest groups and users of the land.

“Our students got to learn first-hand what has made those efforts successful, from habitat management techniques to communication skills.”

Megan Overlander, Diana Mullich, and Ann Rasmussen interned for three weeks with restoration professionals from the Rocky Mountain Trench Society; Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Program; the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations; and Parks Canada.

“This has been a wonderful opportunity to learn from experienced restorationists,” said Rasmussen, who is studying the effect of restoration on the forest fungal community with Dr. Hoeksema. “Surveying vegetation in unthinned, thinned, and burned stands—the changes in the plants present are striking.”

Interns conduct a vegetation survey in Kootenay National Park. Parks Canada thinned the site and plans to conduct a prescribed burn next spring. Photo credit Diana Mullich.  Photo is L-R Dan Murphy, Coordinator of the Rocky Mountain Trench Society, Megan Overlander, Diana Mullich, Ann Rasmussen

Photo (left to right) Dan Murphy, coordinator of the Rocky Mountain Trench Society, Megan Overlander, Diana Mullich, and Ann Rasmussen | Photo by Diana Mullich

The interns completed fire suppression training, met biogeographer Lori Daniels of the Tree Ring Lab at the University of B.C., surveyed plant and amphibian communities in Kootenay National Park, and toured restoration sites from Banff National Park to Jaffray.

They also shared their work on oak-pine savanna restoration in North Mississippi. Overlander is studying how restoration affects microbial activity in leaf litter, supervised by Colin Jackson, associate professor of biology. Mullich researches the effects of restoration on reptiles and amphibians as part of her doctoral research, supervised by Brice Noonan, assistant professor of biology.

“I was impressed by both the number and the acreage of the restoration projects we visited,” said Rasmussen. “The deep knowledge of fuels and fire present in the Trench has made it possible to tailor very specific prescriptions for different habitat goals.”

The students returned from B.C. with knowledge to help the U.S. “The perspective gained from this experience will benefit our students as they work to implement ecosystem restoration projects here in Mississippi and around the South,” Hoeksema said. “Successful ecosystem restoration will benefit residents of the South because healthy ecosystems have clean water and more abundant and diverse wildlife, birds, beneficial insects, and plants.”