Andy Holdsworth, conservation biologist
Friday, 5 Sep 2003
Field research can be terribly monotonous. “Wild, 3.5, 1, 0, ER, G. Violet, 1, 1, 0, S. Sugar, DL. Virginia, 1.5, 0, 1, H1.” That’s the sound of my assistant and I monitoring the status of 1,200 plants in the worm electro-shocking experiment at Wood-Rill. We droned on for six hours of this bizarre field chanting. Thankfully, the fierce Minnesota mosquitoes have died down. Despite the mind-numbing data collection, as we walk homewards through the forest I marvel at the beauty of this remnant of Minnesota’s “Big Woods” and remember how lucky I am to have the opportunity to decipher some of its stories.
But where and to whom do we tell these stories? Amidst today’s tasks of reviewing a friend’s manuscript, filing research expense reports, checking in with my advisor, and continuing ceaseless data entry, my thoughts turn to outreach. Nonnative, invasive species are ranked as the second most significant menace to threatened and endangered species. They are considered major threats to global biodiversity, along with such better-known problems as climate and land-use changes. However, public awareness of invasive species and policies to prevent their spread is very limited. With ballooning global trade and travel, the challenges only heighten. When it comes to invasive species in the soil, like various species of earthworms, we really have a long way to go.
Minnesota is taking a leading role, though. As a result of land managers’ concerns, research results, and a risk assessment of nonnative earthworms, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Native Plant Society produced an outreach campaign to educate the fishing public about the ecological impacts of nonnative earthworms and encourage people to dump their unwanted bait in the trash, not in the woods. A DNR video news release showing the impact of invasive earthworms at our research sites was distributed throughout the state. More than 1,000 “Contain Those Crawlers” posters went to bait shops.
This educational campaign is a great start and I want to do all I can to help spread its message. Today I contacted a Chequamegon National Forest intern about distributing the posters there. I drafted a list of nonprofit groups, agencies, and publications to contact about my current and future research results. As a researcher, I always hope that the questions I have asked and the way I have approached answering them will be as useful as possible to on-the-ground work. Conducting outreach myself is an important reality check on the connection between research and applied conservation and management. As my coursework is finished and two of my three major research projects wind down, I look forward to exploring this connection even more.