A Land of Research Opportunity
The Kennesaw State University Field Station, a 25-acre property 2 miles from the Kennesaw campus, offers an outdoor space for interdisciplinary research opportunities and a living learning laboratory for researchers, educators and students.
“Most universities have some space for research – oftentimes natural settings for the agricultural sciences,” said Field Station Operations Manager Michael Blackwell. “However, this property, with a flexible landscape of diverse areas, can provide infinite possibilities for multidisciplinary projects.”
The site officially opened last summer under the auspices of the Office of Research. The Field Station is also a member of the Organization of Biological Field Stations, a nonprofit organization supporting environmental research, education and public understanding.
“We hosted an open house at the end of last year to start building up campus awareness about the potential for faculty and students to think in broader terms how their projects and research interests can be amplified by integrating the Field Station into their work,” he said. “I encourage the KSU community to visit us, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss promising research ideas with faculty and students from all disciplines.”
The KSU Field Station is currently supporting research activities ranging from forensic anthropology to biotechnology applications. In line with KSU’s research goals, the following projects are already using the resources of the Field Station to advance their disciplines and contribute to communities at large.
FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGY FIELD LAB
Alice Gooding, forensic anthropologist for the state of Georgia, connects her professional experiences to her current position as assistant professor of anthropology at KSU. Her latest initiative is the opening of the Forensic Anthropology Field Lab (FAFL) at the Field Station.
FAFL includes a variety of open, wooded and underground environments to facilitate cutting-edge research and training in clandestine grave recovery.
“The goals of FAFL include providing training and education to current KSU students as well as professional training for law enforcement and medical examiners in our local area and across the state,” said Gooding. “We also conduct research related to forensic anthropology.”
Gooding plans to teach a class on forensic anthropology field techniques at the Field Station. This course will expose students to the role of forensic anthropology in the investigation and recovery of clandestine burials. The FAFL research activities will also include an experiential learning component in which undergraduates can play an integral role in the research process for academic credit and/or experience.
“One of our first projects will involve testing some methods that are used to find possible burial sites,” she said. “These methods can be used above the ground to test whether there are anomalies in the soil to determine if there is something underneath prior to digging.”
SAVING THE AMERICAN CHESTNUT
The surprising discovery of two wild American chestnut trees at the KSU Field Station was the catalyst for a new area of research in conservation. Known as the “eastern redwood,” almost 4 billion American chestnut trees once covered the eastern U.S. The near extinction of this tree, caused by a fungal disease introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900s, was the most dramatic biological and environmental disaster of the 20th century.
“American chestnut trees provided a huge benefit to the United States,” said Kyle Gabriel, a research scientist in KSU’s BioInnovation Laboratory. “In addition to their importance to wildlife, they also supported the livelihood of many Americans by providing a source of hardwood for furniture and housing, and their nuts as a plentiful food source.”
Teaming up with Blackwell, the two received a grant from The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF), which originally confirmed the identification of the trees through genetic testing. Their grant is to explore innovative biotechnologies to improve the survival of laboratory-propagated plantlets developed for disease resistance. They have also just started a collaboration with TACF to plant a blight-resistant American chestnut orchard at the Field Station for future restoration efforts.
AUTOMATED MUSHROOM PRODUCTION
The American Mushroom Institute reported that mushroom sales accounted for more than $1.2 billion in U.S. economic impact, with over 929 million pounds produced in 2017 alone. Now Gabriel is using innovative technology to help expand the opportunities for mushroom production in unlikely places, such as urban environments and nonarable lands.
“Mushrooms provide unique nutritional, medicinal and economic benefits, yet their demand still exceeds their supply. We are developing tools to cultivate mushrooms in any environment by utilizing insulated, environmentally controlled shipping containers that can be transported by land, sea and air,” he said. “We’re also utilizing low-value agricultural wastes, such as inedible plant materials, as growth substrates to boost both profitability and sustainability.”
Gabriel first began mushroom cultivation as a hobby when he was an undergraduate. He created a cultivation chamber in his closet with a rudimentary hardware and software system he developed to automate the process of mushroom growth.
The current version of the automated mushroom production process is taking place in a shipping container at the KSU Field Station. Gabriel designed the embedded environmental control system with software he developed, called Mycodo, which can autonomously monitor and regulate the growing conditions for mushrooms – temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide concentrations.
URBANIZATION AND THE IMPACT ON STARLINGS
Integrative behavioral ecologist Sarah Guindre-Parker is interested in the adaptability of animals when faced with unpredictable environmental challenges. New types of food sources or habitats found in urban settings, for example, can provide wildlife with these essential benefits but also introduce new risks.
As assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Guindre-Parker and her students have set up a colony of bird nest boxes for European starlings at the KSU Field Station. The team will be able to monitor behavior and reproductive success in an urban agricultural setting compared with primarily urban or agricultural sites.
Guindre-Parker explained that starlings are convenient to study because they are common pests known to readily take up residence in human-made boxes. This bird is also found in many diverse habitats, making it possible to examine how factors such as food scarcity or weather patterns affect the breeding and survival of birds and other animals.
Although starlings are not of conservation concern, insight from this research will provide a basic understanding of how city life affects wildlife.
“By studying European starlings, I can answer general questions about how urbanization and novel environmental challenges influence birds in the hopes that results from my research on European starlings can help us build more sustainable cities for other species of birds as well,” she said.
KSU Field Station Home to the Forensic Anthropology Field Lab
KENNESAW, Ga. (Jun 8, 2020) —