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Collaborative research in Superior National Forest

By Kyle Schut '13
July 20, 2012

A team of researchers from St. Olaf College that spent five weeks at the Coe College Wilderness Field Station included (from second from left) Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Mike Swift, Cody Ewers '14, Jessica Hopson, Phillip Beardsley-Schoonmaker '13, and Stella Castro. They're pictured with St. Olaf Professor of Biology Anne Walter (far left) and Coe College Professor of Biology Harlo Hadow, who directs the Wilderness Field Station. Photo provided by Stella Castro.

Students performing research at the Coe College Wilderness Field Station near Ely, Minnesota, got a lesson in teamwork this summer — helping each other paddle canoes, collect aquatic insects, and perform analyses for four separate research projects.

Along the way, they also learned the value of collaborating with researchers from other academic institutions.

Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Mike Swift led a group that included two St. Olaf students participating in the college's Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program, as well as two students (one from Smith College and the other from Puerto Rico's Universidad Metropolitana) participating in the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program on campus.

Swift and the four student researchers — St. Olaf students Cody Ewers '14 and Philip Beardsley-Schoonmaker '13; Smith College student Jessica Hopson; and Universidad Metropolitana student Stella Castro — spent five weeks conducting research at the Wilderness Field Station, a unique summer program of biological field study in the Superior National Forest.

Swift taught aquatic ecology to students from St. Olaf, Grinnell, Lawrence, and Coe colleges as part of the program's summer classes, while each of the students from St. Olaf gathered field samples. Participants in the field station's first summer term also included students from Carleton College.

"The mixing of students from multiple colleges enriches the experience for all of them," says Swift.

While at the field station, Ewers studied the diversity of aquatic insects in Low Lake; Beardsley-Schoonmaker studied the vertical distribution of planktonic algae in the lake; Castro examined size-selective predation by larvae of the damselfly Lestes; and Hopson studied the ecology of pitcher plants (Sarracenia).

"It's been the perfect mix of field and lab work, which is one of the things that drew me to my project in the first place," says Beardsley-Schoonmaker.

Swift's own research deals in general with aquatic ecology, with his specialty being zooplankton ecology. His four student researchers opted to look into various topics other than this, and broadened each others' experiences and understanding in doing so.

"They all studied aspects of aquatic ecology that are of particular interest to me, and which have expanded my knowledge of aquatic ecology generally, and particularly about the Low Lake area," Swift says.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or