Beiser Field Station: A different kind of classroom

Dr. Dave McShaffrey explores the Beiser Field Station with a student

While it takes five or less minutes to reach just about every class on campus, there is one special lab that takes a bit longer.

The Barbara Beiser Field Station — a solid 20-minute car ride into the heart of Washington County — seems like worlds away from Marietta College’s campus. The roughly 77-acre property has a variety of ecosystems and terrain that ranges from wetlands to dense forests. Ralph Voorhees, the widower of Barbara A. Beiser Voorhees ’49, donated the property to the College in September 2007. The land had been in Beiser’s family since before the Great Depression.

The College operates the field station in cooperation with the Friends of the Lower Muskingum River (FLMR), and receives funding from the Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation Program. FLMR is a consortium of organizations dedicated to protecting the health of the Muskingum River.

From oil painting and scientific imaging to animal behavior and ecology, the Beiser Field Station has benefitted an array of classes and research projects.

Ben Reed ’16 (Marietta, Ohio) and Molly Mays ’16 (Marietta, Ohio) studied the biodiversity of the field station as part of their capstone project.

Dr. Katy Lustofin and I are advising one of the students and the other is working with me,” says Biology and Environmental Science Professor Dave McShaffrey. “I am working on a poster to be presented Feb. 27 at the Ohio Naturalist’s Conference in Columbus; it will have the names of seven students (in addition to Katy and me), who have done work at the station in the past few years.”

Other former and current students whose past and present research contributed to the poster are Natalie Turner ’15, Derek Hennen ’12, MaLisa Spring ’14, Logan Eckels ’15, Chris Monroe ’15, Mays and Reed.

McShaffrey says the field station allows students to learn about plants and animals in their native habitat, rather than studying dead specimens that have been pinned or are floating in a jar.

“Beiser Field Station allows ecology students to study actual ecosystems, as opposed to descriptions of them in a book,” he says. “It allows student researchers to conduct experiments in ecology outdoors.”

Trail cameras that the Biology Department installed have captured images of coyotes, deer and other species.

“The best thing about the Field Station is being able to go outside and actually apply practical skills that we learn in the classroom, and to have the opportunity to do independent research,” Mays says. “My favorite biology class so far has been Zoology because we would go to the station at least once a week to learn different insect collecting techniques hands on in the field. This class is also what gave me the idea for my capstone research. We discussed the current crisis with pollinators, and I decided to study them. Specifically I decided to survey what species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) were present at the Beiser Field Station, because these species are often used to assess the health of the ecosystem.”

She collected specimens April through November and will present her results for the Marietta Natural History Society and on All Scholars Day (April 15).

The department’s botanist, Dr. Ben Gahagen, also utilizes the station. In years past, Emerita Professor Dr. Almuth Tschunko took her botany classes to the station.

For Lustofin, who is an Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science, the field station provides many opportunities for research.

“I mostly use the field station for Animal Behavior lab — we’ve done observational experiments with bees, looking at whether or not bees stick with one kind of flower when they are out collecting pollen or switch between multiple kinds (less good for the flowers, since it makes them less likely to get the right pollen),” she says. “It is a nice way to get the students field experience with the concepts we discuss in class. I also collect live animals from the field station to use in lab experiments, like when I had the students look at habitat choice by millipedes.”

One research opportunity for next year could be the food preferences of millipedes, Lustofin says.

“I also collect tadpoles (when I can) from the field station for my Developmental Biology class — the students rear them in the classroom to learn more about amphibian development as well as hone their skills at observing, describing, and sketching live organisms.”

When weather permits, the field station also gives students the opportunity to examine many invasive species, applying techniques they’ve learned in class, which Lustofin says is a great extension of the lecture and discussion material.

“Additionally, I just find myself using more examples and photos from the field station when we talk about concepts in Biology 101 and other classes,” she says. “I have brought in goldenrod galls from the field station when we discuss parasitoids in the unit on ecology and stabilizing selection in the unit on evolution in Biology 101.”

Lustofin is the advisor of the Biology Club and serves on the board of FLMR. Students in the Biology Club spend many hours working on the field station.

“The Biology Club has also gotten more active at the field station,” Lustofin says. “We have had blacklighting nights, instigated by the club, when we go out looking for moths and other night insects, as well as night hikes, looking for UV-fluorescent millipedes and fungi. I also use the field station to talk with my students about community involvement and community partnerships.”