Students and profs present at annual meeting

Several Northwestern College students will accompany biology professors Dr. Laura Furlong, Dr. Elizabeth Heeg and Dr. Todd Tracy to present their respective research projects at the Iowa Academy of Science’s 126th annual meeting on April 11 and 12 at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Furlong, Tracy and their zoology students will present their research, “Earth, Trees and Fire: Ecological Interactions at Niobrara Valley Preserve.” The research was completed last fall at the Niobrara Valley Preserve near Valentine, Neb., where a large wildfire ravaged the preserve in 2012. The fire affected areas of mixed grass prairie, Ponderosa Pine and oak woodlands, and strands of Eastern Redcedar, a fire-intolerant species that flourishes in the absence of wildfires.

Five students assisted Furlong and Tracy in their research: Kyle Cleveringa, a sophomore biology teaching and elementary education major from Sioux Center; Sarah Kaltenbach, a senior biology health professions major from Eagan, Minn.; senior Jordan Reinders, a biology teaching and history major from Orange City; Ben Schmidt, a junior biology major from Bemidji, Minn.; and sophomore Emily Stricklin, a biology ecological science major from Forest Hill, Md.

The students sought to understand the prominent role of fire in shaping ecosystems by collecting soil samples in areas affected by the wildfire, as well as the areas surrounding the damage. They analyzed these samples for carbon and moisture content and for ground-associated macro-invertebrates at each soil collection site. They will present their findings regarding interactions between fire history, soil characteristics, tree type and invertebrate diversity in a poster at the annual meeting.

Also presenting at the conference will be biology professor Elizabeth Heeg. Her research, “Is MRSA Among Us?” was conducted to determine the presence of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in an exercise facility. Sixteen locations were sampled and several areas were noted as having elevated levels of bacteria growth. These samples were also cultured after the locations were cleaned to measure the efficiency of the current cleaning protocols in the facility.

Assisting Heeg with her research were sophomore Megan Feuchtenberger, a Spanish and biology health professions major from Alvord, Iowa; Laura Hurley, a sophomore from Canton, S.D., majoring in biology health professions and mathematics; Emily Nienhuis, a sophomore chemistry major from Oak Harbor, Wash.; and Kelley Thurman, a sophomore biology health professions majors from Prineville, Ore.