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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

MelanieHistand/MS Zeb Holsopple
Goshen College student explores the outdoors and models of conservation through Maple Scholars Program

GOSHEN, Ind. – Zebulon Holsopple spent his summer days in the sun – tracking animals, collecting plants and taking an occasional camping trip. He wasn’t on vacation between academic semesters – he was participating in the 2004 Goshen College Maple Scholars program, a summer research opportunity for students to work side-by-side with Goshen College professors. Consisting of eight weeks of research, the program culminates in a final symposium showcasing each student’s work.


While most students participating in the Maple Scholars program spent many hours indoors, peering into beakers or computer screens, Holsopple, a junior environmental studies and secondary education double major from Goshen, searched outdoors for his data.


Based at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, located about 45 minutes south of the main campus near Wolf Lake, Ind., Holsopple was looking at three models of conservation and the effect it has on species diversity and richness. “Biodiversity is a measure of an ecosystem’s health, so by looking at the biodiversity of an area, I can assess how effective the conservation type is at preserving and/or restoring biodiversity,” said Holsopple, which is essential to combating the loss of 27,000 of the earth’s species each year.


LisaRenee English, assistant professor of biology and director of environmental studies, was Holsopple’s adviser. “Answers to the questions that he’s asking would provide land managers with more data as they decide on how to approach conservation,” she said.


The three models of conservation Holsopple was examining are active, passive and restorative. He first researched the northern Indiana region to find sites that fit each model and has spent significant amounts of time at each area.


Active conservation is a model of intervention where flora and fauna in an area are managed with goals of conserving current community structure in an ecosystem. One area where this has occurred is at Chain O’Lakes State Park in Noble County, where farmers once plowed fields of crops. The field has since been converted to a forest ecosystem through the planting of Eastern White Pine trees.


Holsopple’s studies of passive conservation, a model whereby a plot of land is set aside and nature is allowed to take its course without human intervention, took place at Pokagon State Park, a former campground in Steuben County.


The third model is restorative conservation, or in the words of Holsopple, “undoing what has been done by man.” It includes altering landscapes or waterways, relocating or exterminating non-indigenous species and reintroducing indigenous species with the goal of returning a community to a previous natural state. A site at Merry Lea proved suitable for Holsopple’s research of this model.


Though Holsopple worked by the sun during the day and slept under the stars at night, his task was grueling, with each day starting before sunrise and ending after sunset. Rising at 4 a.m., he first checked traps he set the day before at a particular study site. The mice, shrews and voles he caught act as the primary indicator of biodiversity in that area. Once caught, the animals were recorded, marked with spray paint and released.


Then Holsopple gathered samples of vegetation to take back to the Merry Lea Learning Center, where the rest of the morning was spent identifying and studying the samples, which also help to determine the ecosystem’s biodiversity.


“Noon finds me back in the field again to re-check the traps and to release any inhabitants,” said Holsopple, followed by more identification of the site’s vegetation. Only towards early evening does he get a break from the days activities


“After supper, I have a precious few hours of free time to work on other aspects of the project or take time off for myself,” he said.


At sunset, Holsopple once again checked the traps at the study site and releases any occupants. “It is at these times that I realize that the night does not belong to humans, as the day does, but belongs to the various wild animals that stir as the sun goes down,” said Holsopple. “After the check is complete, I am done for the day, and gratefully collapse into bed to get the sleep necessary for me to rise and do it all again the next day.”


Said English, “Biological questions worthy of research may first appear, to students, as a daunting task in getting to the answer. However, once they go through the process of designing and carrying out a study, few questions will appear daunting – just in need of thought and process. I can think of no greater educational tool to offer students than the systematic process of problem solving.”


Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S.News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit https://www.goshen.edu/.


- by Melanie Histand


Editors: For more information, contact News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.




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