Biology Core Curriculum

College of Letters & Science

Past Student Research Projects

A Study of Trichome Expression in Brassica rapa and Future Educational Opportunities - Natalie Tupper, Sophie Carr, Kimberli Ward

Our research will use a QTL analysis to identify the location and nature of genes in the Brassica rapa genome that condition the expression of trichomes, hair-like tissues that form on leaves of seedlings. The results of this analysis will be valuable for enriching education about quantitative genetics at both the high school and undergraduate level. There are many more instructional tools currently available to teach Mendelian genetics, but very few that address quantitative genetics. The current research will provide students a hands-on educational experience in a very important, but underrepresented, area of science.

Alkaline Phosphatase Structure Influences Heat Stability - Joseph LHuillier and Adam Miller

Alkaline phosphatase (AP) enzyme structure is highly conserved among phyla, but differences in AP heat stability exist. Human placental AP (HPLAP) contains a heat-stable amino acid 429, a hydrophobic pocket, and an RY cluster-- all likely involved in AP stability. We hypothesize that HPLAP will be most heat stable compared to bovine intestinal AP (BIAP) which will be least heat stable due to the absence of these structures. Human intestinal AP (IAP) is expected to have an intermediate level of heat stability due to the presence of a hydrophobic pocket only. Heat stability was determined by measuring enzyme reaction velocity with substrate p-nitrophenol phosphate run at 37°C and 55°C. Both BIAP and IAP showed similar decrease in reaction velocity at 55°C, while HPLAP maintained high reactivity at 55°C no different that 37°C. These results indicate that the hydrophobic pocket with AA429 may not be sufficient for heat stability, but that the hydrophobic pocket may be necessary. The results will help elucidate the relative importance of AP structural components in heat stability. Poster

Bird and Insect Diversity - Kendra Johnson

A senior at Memorial High School in Madison, Kendra did a study of bird and insect diversity in the Biocore Prairie as compared to a nearby grassy field. She found that Biocore Prairie had greater bird abundance and species richness than the grassy field.

Can herbicide control thistles? - Mike Kuklinsk

Bull thistle and Canada thistle are two problem weed species that threaten the Biocore Prairie. Mike tested whether careful spot treatments with the non-specific herbicide RoundUp can kill (or severely weaken) thistles without damaging the surrounding plants. He also investigated whether thistles treated with RoundUp resprouted. Mile kept track of all of the plants in the treatment plots over the course of the summer of 2002.

Digital Photography and Image Analysis to Measure Vegetative Cover in the Biocore Prairie - Caitlin Butte

(L&S Honors Sophomore Honors Research Apprenticeship recipients)

Estimating ground coverage is a very useful procedure for characterizing vegetation and assessing its growth and development over time. Visual estimation methods are most widely used, but show high variation due to human subjectivity. We developed an alternative method for estimating ground cover using short range digital photography and image analysis to estimate coverage for 0.5 m2 plots in the Biocore Prairie and in artificial plots with known two-dimensional areas. We found this technique was highly precise with 4% or lower variation and was reliable above a threshold of 5% bareground. Conversely, visual estimations yielded estimations with variation of 5-12% that was consistent over a wide range of cover (15-80%). Image analysis may be implemented when more precise and reliable coverage approximations are needed.

Distribution of Soil Nematodes in Sawdust or Ground Corn Stubble - Flavien Leclere

Flavien determined the abundance and distribution of soil nematodes (specifically fungivorous and bacterivorous nematodes) in experimental plots treated with sawdust or ground corn stubble.

Effects of Competition on Prairie Plants - Elizabeth Halley

Elizabeth studied plant growth in an area of the Biocore prairie restoration where there was considerable competition from weeds. The focus was on three species: little bluestem (a grass), butterfly weed (a forb), and leadplant (a legume). The health and growth of the three species in the plot were being compared with their health and growth in the demonstration garden at the top of the hill where weeds had continually been removed (as a result, the prairie species there had little competition from weeds). In order to include other differences between the demonstration garden and this research plot, Beth measured soil composition and light levels in addition to height and width of plants. By closely studying the growth of these three key prairie species, we hoped to find what was limiting their growth so that we could use this information to assist them in becoming more easily established throughout the restoration.

Effects of Long-Term Simulated Grazing - Craig Kohn

Craig established a series of 18 1x1m plots in Area II where he studied the effects of long-term simulated grazing. In 2005, Craig received a Wisconsin Idea Fellowship to establish workshops for FFA students wishing to incorporate environmental studies into their FFA portfolio.

Effects of Red Bull Energy Drink on Short Term Memory - Annika Swenson and Allison Bichler

Annika and Allison studied the two active ingredients in the Red Bull Energy Drink, taurine and caffeine. They wanted to know if students who ingested these ingredients had any change in short term memory. Their results were published in the Amino Acids Journal in 2006 (see citation below).

Red Bull energy drink has become extraordinarily popular amongst college students for use as a study aid. We investigated the combined effects of Red Bull's two active ingredients, caffeine and taurine, on short term memory. Studies on the effects of these two neuromodulators on memory have yielded mixed results, and their combined actions have not yet been investigated. In this double-blind study, college student subjects consumed either caffeine and taurine pills or a placebo and then completed a memory assessment. Heart rate and blood pressure were monitored throughout the testing period. The combination of caffeine and taurine had no effect on short term memory, but did cause a significant decline in heart rate and an increase in mean arterial blood pressure. The heart rate decline may have been caused by pressure-induced bradycardia that was triggered by caffeine ingestion and perhaps enhanced by the actions of taurine.

Bichler, A., A. Swenson, and M.A. Harris (2006). A combination of caffeine and taurine has no effect on short term memory but induces changes in heart rate and mean arterial blood pressure. Amino Acids 31:471-476.

Effects of Sawdust on Soil Insects & Microbes - Rebecca Steffenson

Rebeccah studied how the addition of sawdust and ground corn stubble impacts soil insects and microbes.

Effects of Sawdust on Weed Competition - Neha Sehgal

Neha (summer 2005 & summer/fall 2006, 2006 Hilldale fellowship receipient) studied how addition of sawdust and ground corn stubble to soil impacts the growth of weeds in competition with prairie plants.

Foraging Behavior of Birds - Anjan Kaushik

Anjan studied differences in foraging behavior among individuals of several bird species. This research examined whether juvenile birds were being displaced to the less diverse grassland site just southeast of the Biocore Prairie. Anjan used color bands to identify individual birds and to examine their foraging behavior. The banding project was an integral part of the prairie restoration and will continue over several years as the site changes from an old agricultural field to a tallgrass prairie.

Impact of soil carbon amendments on soil nitrogen, biomass production and vegetative composition in the Biocore Prairie - Deena Weiss

(L&S Honors Sophomore Honors Research Apprenticeship recipients)

A major obstacle faced by the Biocore Prairie restoration on the UW-Madison campus is high soil nitrogen, encouraging the growth of nitrophilic weeds over native prairie species. We investigated a weed control technique called ‘reverse fertilization’ to immobilize nitrogen following soil amendment with sawdust and ground corn stubble. Our results revealed changes in vegetation composition, soil nitrogen, and biomass production three years following the initial treatment. Although prairie plant frequency and biomass increased over time, no significant treatment effects were detected between sawdust and corn stubble treated plots and controls. Furthermore, significant differences in soil nitrogen were detected between treatment groups, but not over time. This research may provide valuable insight regarding the utility of this technique in prairie restorations with high soil nitrogen.

Impact of Soil Restoration on Biological Processes - Anne Drefal

Anne monitored soil respiration and soil biological activity weekly through spring, summer and fall 2005 in different areas of Biocore Prairie to establish the impact of the restoration process on soil biological processes.

Mycorrhizae Study - Chris Seebruck

Colored flags in the Biocore Prairie indicate locations where roots are being sampled from both nonnative weed species and prairie species to test for the presence of mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae fungi colonize the fine absorbing roots of many vascular plant species and derive most, if not all of their "food" supply (carbohydrates and amino acids) from the plants. In return, mycorrhizae aid the growth and development of their host plants by expanding the root surface area, improving phosphorus absorption, and water uptake. Most native prairie species have been found to form associations with mycorrhizae while non-native weed species lack this type of symbiosis.

In this study, plant roots at the Biocore Prairie restoration site are being compared with plant roots collected from an established restoration at the UW Arboretum (Curtis Prairie) for the presence of mycorrhizae. Our prediction is that the plant species collected at the Biocore Prairie will have less mycorrhizae associations than at Curtis Prairie. To test this prediction, root samples are washed and boiled in potassium hydroxide to clear all plant pigmentation. The roots are then stained with trypan blue which is specific to fungal cells. The presence of Vascular Arbuscular Mycorrhizae (VAM) on these roots is characterized by blue hyphal strands with irregular shape with cross walls, as well as circular vesicles and spores. Evidence for the presence of mycorrhizae at the Biocore Prairie will add to the restoration efforts and may help inform future site management.

Nonacclimated Root Frost Tolerance in Goldenrod Species in the Biocore Prairie - Emma Geiduschek

(Lakeshore Nature Preserve Student Engagement Award)

Rising winter temperatures are increasing the number of freeze-thaw cycles in the soil, exposing plant root systems to more extreme frost events. Plants with relatively higher root frost tolerances will have higher survival rates than plants with lower root frost tolerances. High root frost tolerance has been linked to nutrient stress survival, with weedy species found to have higher nutrient uptake efficiencies than their native congeners. I predicted that the weedy Solidago canadensis would have a higher nonacclimated root frost tolerance than the native Solidago speciosa in the Biocore Prairie. Nonacclimated root frost tolerance was measured after exposure to 14 hour freezing treatments. No significant difference of nonacclimated root frost tolerance was found, potentially due to similar resource utilizations in the Solidago genus or protocol errors. Oral Presentation Ellen Damschen and Janet Batzli co-mentors



Ongoing Study on The Effects of Lake Marion Dam on Black Earth Creek - Kirsten Rhude

(L&S Honors Sophomore Honors Research Apprenticeship recipients)
The Wisconsin DNR is requiring the Village of Mazomanie to remove or repair the Lake Marion Dam on Black Earth Creek in western Dane County. Generally dams have a negative effect on stream health and biodiversity, as they block stream flow, raise water height, slow stream velocity, and allow sediment to settle upstream. I performed a systematic observation of water quality surrounding the Lake Marion Dam to determine baseline conditions before dam removal. Two sites upstream and two sites downstream of the dam were monitored for four weeks. Observations included temperature, dissolved oxygen and biological oxygen demand, turbidity, and macroinvertebrate surveys. Results suggest that dam removal will not have a significant impact on overall stream health, but only localized effects.

Penstemon digitalis flowers in Biocore Prairie exhibit nectar replenishment when exposed to periodic nectar removal and artificial pollination - Liliana Palencia and Molly Overby

(L&S Honors Sophomore Honors Research Apprenticeship recipients)

Pollinators perform nectar removal and pollination. Though research shows that pollinator visits prompt nectar replenishment, it is unclear whether nectar replenishment is differentially affected by nectar removal and/or pollination. We hypothesized that Penstemon digitalis exposed to nectar extraction would replenish nectar volumes equal to controls. We hypothesized that combinations of artificial pollination and nectar removal would stop nectar production. We exposed P. digitalis to four treatments to evaluate the effects of repeated nectar removal and artificial pollination. While the efficacy of artificial pollination was uncertain, results indicate that P. digitalis replenishes nectar after extraction and produces nectar progressively.

Peromyscus maniculatus & Microtus pennsylvanicus show no habitat differentiation in Biocore Prairie - Lauren Brooks

(Hilldale Award recipient)

Two rodent species Peromyscus maniculatus and Microtus pennsylvanicus are known to coexist within prairie ecosystems. Despite overlapping resource requirements, I hypothesized that these species exhibit habitat differentiation, with M. pennsylvanicus found in higher abundance in areas of high ground cover and litter accumulation, whereas P. maniculatus would be found in higher abundance in areas of lower litter in Biocore Prairie. Using a mark-recapture method, four transects of 20 traps each were set in locations that varied in plant height and high to low litter levels for a total of 13 nights. With a high abundance of 152 animals captured, I found no statistical difference in abundance of the two species based on plant height and litter density, or based on plant species present.

Pollinating Insects - Molly Carlson

Molly studied insects in the two demonstration gardens that are part of the Biocore Prairie restoration site. The project examined the relationship between flowering prairie plants (specifically spiderwort, butterfly weed, bergamot, pale purple coneflower, mountain mint, purple milkweed, yellow coneflower, and purple and white prairie clover) and their insect pollinators (specifically beetles, bees, and butterflies). The objectives of the research were to identify pollinators and to observe their behavior and to document the changes that occur in pollinating insects over time as the prairie grew from a small demonstration garden to a several acre site.

QTL Analysis of Anthocyanin Expression in Brassica rapa - Max Wilson, Jaffna Mathiaparanam, John Riley

Anthocyanin pigmentation is used as a quantitative trait to study genetics in educational settings. We are conducting a Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) analysis to identify the genes involved in expression of anthocyanin pigments in hypocotyls of rapid-cycling Brassica rapa. Relative pigment intensities will be assessed using a colorimetric swatch that pilot experiments suggest will span the range of values observed among two B. rapa recombinant inbred populations. Candidate loci identified through QTL analysis will be evaluated by sequence comparisons of B. rapa and Arabidopisis thaliana gene models and functional annotations in anticipation that we will discover loci that are likely responsible for the heritable response to selection imposed by students in the course of widely-used laboratory exercises.

Quantitative Investigation of Flowering Trait Genes in Brassica rapa aimed at Enhancing Genetics Education - Alexander Lopez, Noah Richter, Jacob Zasada

This study seeks to determine the location and nature of genes that control flowering in Brassica rapa, a model organism used for teaching genetics principles, for future application in classroom settings. Time and height of first flower were recorded for 371 self-breeding, homozygous B. rapa families derived from three parental lineages. BLAST comparisons with Arabidopsis thaliana, a closely-related species, were used to identify likely gene locations in B. rapa. We performed a quantitative trait loci (QTL) statistical analysis which uses family crosses and trait inheritance patterns to approximate gene location. Ultimately analogous methods may be used as an educational tool for instruction in introductory genetic principles such as recombination, inheritance, and incomplete dominance.

Soil Nitrogen Manipulation Study - Kurt Klasson

This study was set up in May 2003 to test the effect of encorporated sawdust on soil nitrogen levels and plant community composition. Six of the twelve experimental plots had 500 mg/ square meter of fine grained sawdust added to each of them at the beginning of the study. We hypothesize that this sawdust addition will increase the carbon: nitrogen ratio of the soil. High carbon: nitrogen ratios approximate natural prairie soil conditions. These soil conditions have previously been shown to give native prairie plants a competitive advantage against invasive species, which typically require higher levels of soil nitrogen. All twelve plots were seeded with a mixture of prairie plants. The growth of these prairie plants as well as that of weed species will be compared between treatment plots (those treated with sawdust), and the control plots, which were not amended with sawdust. Our prediction is that the treatment plots will have a higher percentage of prairie plants than the control plots.

Study of Macroinvertebrates in Willow Creek - Karen Bednar

(Biology 152 IP project)

Benthic macroinvertebrates are commonly used as bioindicators of water quality. In a seasonal survey of Willow Creek from 2006-2008, dissolved oxygen was low contributing to poor water quality, with consistently lower DO in upstream versus downstream portions of the creek. In this study, we investigated macroinvertebrates colonization of upstream, midstream and downstream sections of Willow creek to determine if there is biological significance associated with dissolved oxygen differences in different locations. Our results indicate that there was a higher species richness of organisms semi-sensitive or tolerant to oxygen deprivation found in the creek, with no statistical difference in species richness by location.

The Impacts of Seed Predators - Elizabeth Flemming

Elizabeth studied the impact of seed predators, namely small rodents and birds, on areas freshly seeded with prairie seed. She found that seed predators preferentially took larger seed when offered seed of the same shape and color.

To Till or Not to Till: No Till Better for Suppressing Clonal Weeds in the Biocore Prairie - Christina Fisher

We studied how soil tilling influences the abundance and coverage of weeds in the Biocore Prairie in preparation for planting prairie seeds. Tillage generally decreases weeds overtime by increasing seed germination and depleting the seed bank. We hypothesized an increase in the abundance and percent coverage of weeds in a tilled versus no-tilled area of the Biocore Prairie. We measured species abundance and percent coverage of weeds in twelve 0.5m2 quadrats in tilled and no-tilled areas eight weeks after tilling. No-till had 60% weed coverage with 32% comprising weedy forbs. Tilled had 19% coverage with 65% comprising weedy forbs, including an increased prominence of clonally reproducing Canada thistle. The data indicates that tilling decreases weed coverage, but no-till provides better control of aggressive clonal weeds.

To Till or Not to Till: No Till Better for Suppressing Clonal Weeds in the Biocore Prairie - Cristina Fisher

We studied how soil tilling influences the abundance and coverage of weeds in the Biocore Prairie in preparation for planting prairie seeds. Tillage generally decreases weeds overtime by increasing seed germination and depleting the seed bank. We hypothesized an increase in the abundance and percent coverage of weeds in a tilled versus no-tilled area of the Biocore Prairie. We measured species abundance and percent coverage of weeds in twelve 0.5m2 quadrats in tilled and no-tilled areas eight weeks after tilling. No-till had 60% weed coverage with 32% comprising weedy forbs. Tilled had 19% coverage with 65% comprising weedy forbs, including an increased prominence of clonally reproducing Canada thistle. The data indicates that tilling decreases weed coverage, but no-till provides better control of aggressive clonal weeds.

Topical Application of Avotone Anti-Wrinkle Cream Predicted to Reduce Corrugator Supercilii Activity - Ben Stern, Jeff Bonavia, Charlie McCanna, Kellen Sheedy, Tommy Kuehn, and Alex Ringeisen.

Ben Stern, Jeff Bonavia, Charlie McCanna, Kellen Sheedy, Tommy Kuehn, and Alex Ringeisen studied the active ingredient in Avotone anti-wrinkle cream during the 2006-07 academic year. They carried out a double-blind, controlled investigation to determine if topical application of Avotone reduces electromyogram (EMG) signals from muscles lifting the eyebrow. They presented their findings at the UW-Madison Undergraduate Research Symposium in April 2007.

Title and Abstract of Poster:
Topical application of 10% acetyl hexapeptide-3 predicted to reduce corrugator supercilii activity

Acetyl hexapeptide-3 mimics the SNAP-25 portion of the SNARE complex, inhibiting the exocytosis of acetylcholine from presynaptic motorneurons. Acetyl hexapeptide-3 is the “active” ingredient in the Avotone® anti-wrinkle cream. We hypothesize that the topical application of 10% acetyl hexapeptide-3 will decrease the activity of the corrugator supercilii muscle in human subjects aged 18 to 24 as measured by EMG signal magnitude. We are collecting EMG signals before and after topical application of acetyl hexapeptide-3, as subjects maximally contract this muscle. The control subjects apply Avotone that does not contain acetyl hexapeptide-3, while the experimental subjects apply Avotone a cream containing 10% acetyl hexapeptide-3. We expect a significant decrease in the mean corrugator supercilii activity after a 30 day treatment period.

Use of Bloom's Taxonomy to Claassify Temporal Problem-solving Strategies of Two Biology Students - Michael Kerins

According to Bloom's taxonomy, intellectual problem-solving development can be categorized as a series of cognitive abilities that start at low-level skills, like factual recollection, and build to higher level skills, like synthesizing different viewpoints and generating a new hypothesis. Educators use Bloom's to design questions that elicit the desired level of cognitive skill. However, cognitive processes required to answer a question are often overlooked by evaluators or not expressed in the students' written responses, thereby losing key insight into student's thinking and learning. Utilizing video-recorded problem-solving "think aloud" protocols with two students, we describe development of a coding scheme for the use of Bloom's taxonomy to classify temporal cognition levels and patterns during student progression through biology problems.

Vegetative ground cover is important parameter for species distribution of Peromyscus maniculatus and Microtus pennsylvanicus - Kara Bretzman

Peromyscus maniculatus (deer mouse) andMicrotus pennsylvanicus (meadow vole) are two common small mammals found in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. P. maniculatus is known to be a vegetative generalist, whereas M. pennsylvanicus is exclusive to grasses and forbs. This study measured relative abundance of both mice species in habitats of varying vegetative ground cover (GC). Live traps were set in four areas; woods (low GC), grass field (high GC), garden (moderate GC) and prairie (high GC). With a total of 57 animals trapped over an eight-day period, M. pennsylvanicus had greater abundance in high GC, whereas P. maniculatus had significantly higher abundance in low to moderate GC. This study lends support for habitat differentiation among M. pennsylvanicus andP. maniculatus based on vegetative cover.

Willow Creek Analysis - Emily Roth

Emily (summer 2006, 152 mentored research student) studied Willow Creek on a weekly basis, from mid-July to early October, taking measurements of dissolved oxygen, temperature and turbidity, and monitoring the benthic macroinvertebrate community at upstream and downstream locations.