Studying Piping Plover Habitat Loss

 Environmental Science Capstone 

Michelle Brown and Jack Kellner installing piezometers with University of St. Thomas Environmental Science Seniors at the John E. Williams Preserve, a Nature Conservancy site in North Dakota to protect glacial prairie pothole alkaline lakes, the nesting area of threatened Piping Plovers (Photo: Lisa Lamb)

In the spring of 2016, seniors in the Environmental Science Capstone class chose to work on two projects, both real projects for community partners. One project is for The Nature Conservancy, helping to understand habitat loss of the threatened Piping Plover at a preserve in north-central North Dakota. Vegetation is encroaching upon plover habitat and students are studying the lake and groundwater chemistry, soil chemistry, vegetation patterns, geomorphology and lake sediments to understand the interplay of geologic, biologic, chemical and hydrologic factors that lead to habitat loss. To understand the hydrogeology, students installed and then monitored wells to understand groundwater flow and how that might affect soil and vegetation.

Derek Robinson, Rose Misey and Dylan Welter use a total station to survey the exact location of installed piezometers (photo: Lisa Lamb)

Sustainable Living Learning Communities

Chau Le (Right) records soil information as other students auger into the ground to prepare a hole for a new piezometer and Ashley Brundrett (Left) installing a piezometer at Lake Williams, North Dakota


Incoming students to St. Thomas now have a choice of several Living Learning Communities (LLC) to join. Students live together in a residence hall and take 1-4 classes together during the year. Students in the Sustainability LLC take two classes together in the fall: Environmental Geology and Sustainable Development. Together, the two classes traveled together to North Dakota to continue the project the Environmental Science seniors started in January.  

Rani Mohanty examines the soil profile near Pelican Lake at the John E. Williams Preserve (photo: Lisa Lamb)
Professor Rebecca Clotts and senior Jack Kellner teach freshmen Chau Le and Livy Roucka how to install a piezometer (photo: Lisa Lamb)
Sustainability Living Learning Community member Shayna Thostenson adds an extension to a soil auger in preparation of extracting a soil profile. (photo: Lisa Lamb)

Sustainability Living Learning Community members Megan Schwartz, Sarah Howe, Livy Roucka, Shayna Thostenson, and Dr. Lisa Lamb examine the bison herd at The Nature Conservancy Cross Ranch Preserve, near Bismarck. Bison help maintain the native prairie grasses and provide income to the TNC to help cover the cost of managing the land (photo: Lisa Lamb)