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What happens when 26 St. Edward’s University students spend 7,600 hours studying portions of a 227-acre wilderness preserve?

Turns out, quite a lot. We listened as a few of them presented their findings from research conducted at the Wild Basin Creative Research Center in Austin this summer. Here are four of the top things we learned.

1. The Wild Basin Digital Database will act as an online warehouse for ecological data.

Five Computer Science students developed code for a web-based database that will let researchers document their discoveries at Wild Basin. It also will allow users to upload and search information related to any research projects at the center. The students will pre-populate the database with plant and species lists, and researchers can add their findings and collaborate with others. The database will ready by the end of the fall semester.

2. The Golden-cheeked Warblers are surrounded by nest predators.

Since 1990, Golden-cheeked Warblers, who nest in Central Texas forests, have been on the endangered species list. Bethany Davis ’18, a Kinesiology Pre-Physical Therapy major, wanted to know what kinds of nest predators may threaten the songbird in Wild Basin and how urbanization affects predation rates. She set up 13 motion-triggered cameras to film artificial nests, then put quail and clay eggs inside them to document predator activities across the landscape. She recorded Western Scrub-Jays, Blue Jays and a curious squirrel stealing the eggs. Davis collected 700 60-second videos to help map how predation rates vary in the preserve.

3. It can take 20 years — or more — for vegetation to regrow after a wildfire.

About 4,000 acres were destroyed by a wildfire near Bee Creek in 1961. Sydney Garcia ’16, an Environmental Science and Policy major, looked at how woody vegetation was changed by that fire, which burned for two days. She found archive images of Wild Basin’s landscape and compared those to current ones using a layering technique. Her analysis showed that 58% of Wild Basin did not have any woody vegetation in the 1965 imagery, suggesting that those acres were likely burned in the fire of 1961. Garcia’s research showed that different parts of Wild Basin had different “trajectories” in terms of their woody vegetation regeneration. For example, some parts of the preserve experienced immediate rapid plant re-growth after the fire, whereas others took much longer to regenerate. Garcia’s future research includes using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) imagery, which will reveal more about the 3D structure of the current vegetation.

4. Herbicides could have unintended consequences.

Four students studied the effects of Imazapyr, a weak acid herbicide, used to treat invasive plants at Wild Basin when they have become too large to remove by hand. Selected invasive plants at Wild Basin are treated with an injection method, and the team studied surrounding native plants and soils to determine if they were damaged using this method. They found Imazapyr does not seem to harm nearby plants and soil, but the students said they plan to study root grafting, expand to more areas, and look at the effects on native species.

By Erica Quiroz

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