Tag: biology

Collaboration keys research into invasive weevils along Lake Michigan shoreline

Weevils crawl on a Pitcher's Thistle plant in Door County.
Weevils are seen on a Pitcher’s thistle plant in Door County.
(Photo: Jakub Nowak ’20)

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

If you’ve ever taken a summer walk in picturesque Whitefish Dunes State Park in Door County, perhaps you’ve admired the incredible Pitcher’s thistle, an endangered flowering plant found on the sand dunes of the Great Lakes shores.

If you’ve taken a closer look, maybe you’ve spotted the invasive weevils that threaten the rare plant’s survival.

Lawrence University Assistant Professor of Biology Alyssa Hakes has been studying this plant-insect relationship since she heard about it in 2013. For a few weeks each summer, Hakes and a group of students conduct field work at Whitefish Dunes State Park, located 10 miles south of Björklunden, Lawrence’s Door County satellite campus. Their goal for each trip is to measure weevil distribution and behavior and assess its damage on the plants.

This year, Hakes wanted to create decoy Pitcher’s thistles to use as weevil traps to test their attraction to the visual cues of the plant. To put her plan in motion, she received the help of biology major Harsimran (Hari) Kalsi ’21, who created impressive 3D-printed decoys of the Pitcher’s thistle as an independent study project.

Harsimran (Hari) Kalsi ’21

Hakes had received a recommendation to work with Kalsi from David Hall, assistant professor of chemistry, and Angela Vanden Elzen, the reference and learning technologies librarian and assistant professor who oversees the Makerspace wing of the Seeley G. Mudd Library.

In his freshman year, Kalsi received 3D printing training from Vanden Elzen. He has since done 3D printing projects for Hall, designing and printing virus structures.

“Hari had the experience I needed in a collaborator,” says Hakes. “I had never worked with a 3D printer before, so I needed Hari and Angela’s help and expertise for everything.”

Kalsi was enthusiastic about taking his 3D printing experience to a new level.

“I was excited because I could use my skills to make a difference and potentially save a living organism on the verge of extinction,” he says. “I’m a huge proponent of translational science research and this is a great example of recognizing a problem in the world and designing an intervention to study and fix it.”

Field work in Door County

The weevils (Larinus carlinae) were introduced to the U.S. in the 1970s to control area populations of weedy thistles. However, it turns out that no thistle, even an endangered one, can avoid the weevils’ destruction.

The Pitcher’s thistle dies after flowering, so it only has one chance to reproduce. But the weevil comes along during egg-laying season and pierces the flower with its snout and lays her eggs within. The eggs hatch and the larvae eat the seeds, destroying the plant’s only chance to reproduce. That’s trouble for the Pitcher’s thistle species and for the ecosystem.

“It is one of the only flowering plants on the sand dunes, making it an important nectar resource to bees and butterflies,” Hakes notes.

A photo of pitcher's thistle on the dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan.
Pitcher’s thistle is an important part of the ecosystem in dunes along the Great Lakes. (Photo: Jakub Nowak)

The weevils must be tracked and studied in their interactions with the Pitcher’s thistle in order to solve this problem. How do they choose a plant to lay their eggs in? How do they move about the dune landscape?

To find out, Hakes and her team use the mark-recapture method. This involves catching weevils and marking their backs with multicolored dots (Hakes calls these “weevil makeovers”) in order to track and identify them when they reappear in the wild. Here’s where Kalsi’s decoy plants come into play.

The faux Pitcher’s thistles are designed to trap weevils for study. They are coated in a sticky spray to snag the insect as they land to lay their eggs in the bud. The ability to manipulate the placement of the decoys makes them helpful in understanding how the weevils choose their host plant.

“This summer we tested whether weevils were attracted to our 3D-printed traps,” Hakes says. “Some traps were near real plants, and others were not. Our preliminary data on the mark-recapture study suggest that the traps are potentially more effective near real plants.”

Alyssa Hakes

She’s already setting goals for future field work based on this summer’s success with the decoys.

“We caught a few this summer. Ultimately, it would be great to use them to trap evil weevils en masse. The prototype will need to be improved if it is to be an effective tool in the future.”

Since the appearance of the decoys can be manipulated, she also hopes to use them to assess the weevil’s preferences for bud size, bud number, color and scent in the future. The possibilities are endless. Luckily, Kalsi says, “the decoys are easy to print, economically feasible and easy to transport and deploy in the field.”

In the end, the collaboration between professor and student, and ecology and tech, indicates a bright future in research.

“I love how projects like this help students and faculty collaborate across the campus and think creatively about solving problems,” says Hakes. “It’s been such a fun way to combine art and science.”

And the benefits go both ways. Kalsi’s 3D printing work has rewarded him as a student.

“I think the research I conducted with Alyssa supplements my educational path at some level,” he says. “Being a biology major who tends to focus on the molecular side of things, it was nice to work on an ecology-oriented project.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

Bill Perreault, retired Lawrence biology professor, dies at age 81

William “Bill” Perreault

William “Bill” Perreault, a biology professor who spent 35 years on the Lawrence University faculty before retiring in 2006, passed away on Saturday. He was 81.

Perreault began his career at Lawrence in 1971. At the time of his retirement, he said he still relished the challenge of trying to coordinate molecular techniques with microscopy techniques and the interplay between them in search of a better understanding of how cells work.

When Lawrence was planning its new Science Hall in the late 1990s, Perreault personally designed the plans for the building’s microscopy suite. Over the years, he individually tutored more than 100 students — and a few faculty colleagues along the way — on the finer points of using either Lawrence’s transmission electron microscope or the scanning electron microscope.

“I’m extremely proud of that,” Perreault had said of his work with the TEM and SEM.

Before arriving at Lawrence, Perreault spent seven years in the U.S. Army, reaching the rank of captain. Two of his years in the service were spent as a microbiologist at the U.S. Army Biological Laboratories at Fort Detrick in Maryland.

Originally from Cohoes, N.Y., an upstate mill town near Albany, Perreault often served as the biology department’s “welcoming face.” He taught the introductory course Principles of Biology for 33 of his 35 years. He said he took particular joy in teaching it because the course attracted many students from disciplines outside of the sciences.

“I like to think part of my legacy will be the sheer number of students who received an understanding of the beautiful science of biology because they took my intro class,” Perreault said.

From the archives: William “Bill” Perreault is seen here in his biology lab in 1982.

Perreault and his wife, Marvia, were married for 56 years and have four children, Bill, Michele, Melanie, and John. Michele ’90 and Melanie ’90 are Lawrence alumni.

Known for both his academic work with cells and his infectious enthusiasm — not to mention a legendary sense of humor — Perreault was not one to cheat life.

“He lived a life full of love, travel and bad pranks,” his family wrote in his obituary.

No public memorial services are planned.

“A private memorial gathering with family will be scheduled at a later date,” the obituary reads. “In the meantime, in his memory, take that trip you have been putting off.”

New studies, research put Lawrence on front lines of bee advocacy

Israel Del Toro, dressed in a protective suit, preps honeybees for the observational hive on the roof of the Warch Campus Center.
Israel Del Toro prepares to release honeybees to an observational hive on the roof of Lawrence University’s Warch Campus Center. The hive is visible from inside the Warch on the fourth floor.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Israel Del Toro’s advocacy for bees — fun fact: there are upwards of 100 different species of bees in Appleton alone — is no secret.

The Lawrence University assistant professor of biology has been championing bees and the untold benefits they bring to our ecosystem since he arrived on campus three years ago. He launched the Appleton Pollinator Project to turn homeowners and gardeners into citizen scientists, helped install and study pollination sites across the Fox Cities, and pushed students in his biology lab and campus environmental clubs to work to improve the on-campus habitat for bees.

Now Del Toro is stepping up that advocacy to another level, working to get Lawrence designated as a bee-friendly campus via Bee City USA, an initiative of Xerces Society. There are currently 70 campuses across the country that hold the bee-friendly designation.

All expectations are that Lawrence will be No. 71, and only the second in Wisconsin.

Del Toro submitted Lawrence’s proposal in early May, spotlighting the school’s sustainability push, the efforts to eliminate invasive species that work to the detriment of bees, the planting of bee-friendly wildflowers, the ongoing research activities and the educational outreach on and off campus.

“The goal is to use the campus as this big lab to try to figure out what the best practices are for managing bee diversity in urban landscapes,” Del Toro said.

To help connect Lawrence faculty, students and staff with the wonders of honeybees, Del Toro donned a protective suit last week and released bees into an observational hive set up on the roof of the Warch Campus Center, visible from behind the safety of glass on the building’s fourth floor.

“It’ll be an active colony that we hope will last for three years,” Del Toro said.

“People can’t actually touch the bees but the hives themselves have a plexiglass window so you can look inside and see the bees doing their bee thing and building honeycomb and foraging and dancing.”

A formal unveiling of the observational hive will be held in June, complete with a bee-inspired picnic featuring foods that require bee pollination — think apple pie, blueberry treats and avocado smoothies. Stay tuned for time, date and details.

Bee science

The observational hive at Warch offers an up-close look at the honeybee, the best known of the bee species that are here, but that’s just the start of the bee-focused educational opportunities on campus.

There are 10 different bee species known to be on Main Hall green, mostly housed in the hexagon-shaped pollination box just southeast of Main Hall. But another 32 species are known to inhabit S.L.U.G. (Sustainable Lawrence University Gardens), where students actively maintain a bee-friendly space with blooming flowers, native wildflowers and the ongoing removal of invasive plants.

The hexagon-shaped pollination box is on the Main Hall green, near Youngchild Hall.
A pollination box is on the Main Hall green near Youngchild Hall, home to multiple species of bees.

Del Toro is also working with City of Appleton officials to get the city designated a Bee City. It’s all part of the efforts to educate people on the ecosystem importance of bees and the dangers that exist when we’re not being good stewards of the land.

“It reflects some of the important values of Lawrence,” Del Toro said of the bee-friendly campus and city efforts. “Lawrence has always been very progressive thinking. Sustainability is a big issue now. We want to make sure that in the time of climate change and biodiversity loss, we are a leader in setting the proper example. If all we can impact is our little 88 acres on campus, well, that’s a great starting point. We can lead by example. I think that’s a really great example of the ethos of Lawrence.”

As long as we can get past the misconceptions about bees — no, they are not looking to sting you — it’s also good for student recruitment, Del Toro said.

“I would hope something like this is drawing students who are more sustainably focused and are thinking about issues like conservation and ecology and conservation biology,” he said.

For more on Lawrence’s biology and related offerings, click here.

For more on Lawrence’s geosciences and related offerings, click here.

Hands-on learning

That sort of thinking drew in Maggie Anderson ’19 , a farm girl from northern Minnesota who came to Lawrence with an interest in biology and found the field work that was part of the Del Toro-led bee studies to her liking. She’ll graduate in June, then head to the University of Minnesota to pursue a doctorate while researching bees in prairie ecosystems.

“I didn’t necessarily come in with an intent to study bees, but it kind of became apparent soon after I got here that that was something I was really interested in,” Anderson said.





“It’s given me a lot of
really great research experience.”

Maggie Anderson ’19

What she got at Lawrence in terms of hands-on research opportunities was “really more than I expected,” she said.

That kind of scientific research doesn’t start and stop with bees, though. Ecological-focused work is happening across departments at Lawrence, from biology to natural sciences to environmental sciences, where faculty and students are working on studies in such wide-ranging but critical areas as aquatic ecosystems, endangered plants, bat conservation, soil ecology, and hydrology, to name a few.

“This is one tiny thing we do,” Del Toro said of the bees. “We’re doing a lot of cool science. What that means for our students is they get to go on this ride with us as we’re doing really cutting-edge science.”

Del Toro and his wife, Relena Ribbons, a visiting assistant professor of biology who will become a tenure-track faculty member in the fall, have been leaders in the citizen science project, an effort launched last year to build nearly 60 garden beds in back yards across the Fox Cities. The garden beds, designed to grow vegetables, are split in two, one half pollinated by insects, the other half cordoned off by mesh to keep bees and other insects out.

The homeowners keep the veggies in exchange for providing data from their gardens. Del Toro, Ribbons and their students then analyze the results as they come in.

Israel Del Toro head shot
Del Toro

“What we found from last year’s research is that bees are probably contributing to a market here in the Fox Cities that’s worth roughly $80,000 to $100,000 a year in pollination ecosystem services,” Del Toro said. “That’s based on the amount of produce that gets pollinated by bees in our back yards.”

For Anderson, the interaction with the community has been as enlightening as the work with the bees.

“It’s given me a lot of really great research experience, but also communication experience,” the senior biology and music double major said. “Working with people is a really undervalued part of science, especially in the conservation field that I want to go into. You have to work with people a lot, and you have to know how to communicate.”

Her fellow students, Anderson said, have embraced her bee research and the idea of this being a bee-friendly campus.

“In this campus environment, people really do get that,” she said. “People really do understand that we are up against a lot of environmental issues when we talk about bees in terms of habitat loss and bees just not having enough resources in an urban setting. We need to make a nice, available on-campus habitat for bees, and students and staff to my knowledge have been really, really supportive of that.”

Today (May 20) is World Bee Day. And National Pollinator Week arrives on June 17, just in time for Del Toro’s pollination-themed picnic. No better time to salute these researchers as they create the biggest buzz on campus.

Did we mention there will be pie?

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu.

Michael LaMarca 1931-2017: An enthusiastic teacher and distinguished scientist

A Head shot of former Lawrence University biology professor Michael LaMarca.
Michael LaMarca

Former Raymond H. Herzog Professor of Science and Professor Emeritus of Biology Michael LaMarca passed away Feb. 9 of complications from a stroke. A resident of Rochester, Minn., where he made his home in retirement, he was 85.

A specialist in reproduction and developmental biology, LaMarca joined the Lawrence faculty in 1965 and taught with distinction until he retired in 1995. His career as a scientist and teacher was distinguished by his legendary commitment to the disciplined study of the living world. He was recognized with Lawrence’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 1983.

From the study of amphibians to the exploration of human reproduction, LaMarca guided students for 30 years in both the technical and ethical investigation of biological science. His enthusiastic teaching style impacted thousands of students, especially those he mentored through independent study, many of whom went on to distinguished careers of their own as doctors, researchers and educators.

He served as the scientific director of the in vitro fertilization program at Appleton Medical Center from 1985-95 and his guidance was critical to the impressive successes of northeast Wisconsin’s first such program. Under LaMarca’s tutelage, numerous Lawrence students were able to begin their own research careers there.

LaMarca’s own research earned him a place of influence and honor in the scientific community and took him to laboratories and research centers around the country, including Argonne National Laboratory, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Harvard University School of Medicine, among others.

A photo of former Lawrence University biology professor Michael LaMarca in the laboratory.
Michael LaMarca taught in the Lawrence biology department from 1965-1995.

A native of Jamestown, N.Y., LaMarca was the first member of his family to attend college, earning a degree in biology from the State University of New York at Albany. He spent four years in the Air Force during the Korean War, serving active duty stateside as a meteorological officer while achieving the rank of lieutenant. He went on to earn his Ph.D in zoology at Cornell University and spent two years teaching at Rutgers University before joining the Lawrence faculty.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Joan LaMarca, daughters Cathy Stroebel, Rochester, Minn., and Nancy Gordon, Eden Prairie, Minn., and four grandchildren: Ben, Hannah and Andy Stroebel; and Zach Gordon. He was preceded in death by his oldest daughter, Mary LaMarca.

The family has requested memorials be directed to the National Science Teachers Association or the National Academy of Sciences.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

David Cordie Receives Research Award at Parasitologists Conference

Lawrence University biology major David Cordie was recognized for the best undergraduate presentation at the recent Annual Midwestern Conference of Parasitologists (AMCOP) held at Purdue University.

David Cordie ’13

Cordie received the Raymond Cable Award for his presentation “Testing alternate hypotheses of parasitic communities and aquatic invasive species interaction in Green Bay, Lake Michigan.” The award included a $200 cash prize.

Seniors Briana Harter and Samantha Luebke joined Cordie at the conference as poster presenters.

Cordie’s presentation focused on research he began last summer on the round goby, an invasive fish species that competes with and preys upon native fish species, disrupting the food chain. Round gobies were introduced in the 1990’s though ship ballast water and have since established themselves throughout the Great Lakes, including Lake Michigan and the Fox River.

Specifically, Cordie investigated whether round gobies carry non-native parasites that could potentially be transmitted to native fish populations.

“I am so happy David received this award,” said Judith Humphries, assistant professor of biology, who served as one of Cordie’s research supervisors along with Professor of Biology Bart De Stasio. “It reflects the hard work he put into this project during the last year.”

Cordie’s project was supported by a Mielke Foundation grant and a research grant awarded by AMCOP in 2012. A 2013 magna cum laude graduate of Lawrence, Cordie will pursue graduate studies this fall at the University of Iowa.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2013 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries. Follow Lawrence on Facebook.

David Cordie Senior Experience Exhibited at UW-Fox’s Valley’s Weis Earth Science Museum

Mazon Creek fossilized fern frond.

As part of his Senior Experience, Lawrence University senior biology major David Cordie is curating an exhibition of fossils detailing climate change that will be featured at UW-Fox’s Valley’s Weis Earth Science Museum beginning Wednesday, May 8.

The exhibition features a dozen plant fossils from the Mazon Creek fossil bed in northern Illinois. Cordie also created several posters to accompany the fossils, explaining what they reveal about the region’s climate approximately 350 million years ago. It will be on display until mid-July. Cordie began the project last summer as part of an internship with Weis Museum director Joanne Kluessendorf.

“As director of the Weis Earth Science Museum, I want to take every opportunity to underscore the importance of the museum and its staff as a community resource,” said Kluessendorf.  “So, it was particularly enjoyable to share my expertise in paleontology as well as the museum fossil collections with a Lawrence student. David proved to be an excellent intern and I know that museum visitors will find his exhibit informative. I was also gratified that David chose to pursue a graduate degree in paleontology after this internship and has been accepted into the graduate program at the University of Iowa.”

The Weis Earth Science Museum is open Monday-Thursday, 12-4 p.m.; Friday 12-7 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday 1-5 p.m.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2013 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries. Follow Lawrence on Facebook.