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Hendrix Team’s Research on Bison Published

Zach Nickell ’17 uses a D-vac machine to sample arthropods in an Oklahoma prairie.CONWAY, Ark. (October 3, 2018) – A student-led research team from the Hendrix College Department of Biology has concluded that the behavior of bison may make a valuable contribution to conserving the habitat of arthropods. Their research was recently published in a journal produced by the Ecological Society of America.

Zachary Nickell ’17, Sofia Varriano ’19, Eric Plemmons ’19, and Dr. Matthew D. Moran, professor of biology and chair of the natural sciences area at Hendrix, researched and wrote an article published September 19 in Ecosphere, Volume 9, Issue 9.

The paper, titled “Ecosystem engineering by bison (Bison bison) wallowing increases arthropod community heterogeneity in space and time,”* resulted from bison research the team conducted in Oklahoma. (Read the full text of the article)

This work is part of Moran’s ongoing studies on the ecology of grasslands. “We have been working at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma studying how bison affect prairie ecology, specifically how their behaviors affect arthropods,” he said. “We found that their wallowing behavior changes insect communities and in the long term, may increase the biodiversity of this habitat.”

Nickell, the lead author on the paper, began participating in the research the summer after his sophomore year at Hendrix and continued the work through his senior year. He is now pursuing his Ph.D. in biology at Florida International University.

“I owe a lot to my research, and I couldn’t be more thankful to Dr. Moran, my labmates, and Hendrix’s Odyssey Program,” he said. “It was the first experience I had doing real scientific work, and it solidified that I wanted to spend the rest of my life studying the natural world. Collecting insects out in the prairie and then sorting them in lab was hard work, but I loved every minute of it and it gave me valuable experience in lab work and field work. It not only prepared me for further research, but also was one of the key factors to being accepted at my current institution.”

This project received Hendrix Odyssey Program support in two ways: through grants to each student, and through the Bill and Connie Bowen Odyssey Professorship awarded to Moran. The Odyssey Program ensures that students look beyond the classroom to experience hands-on educational opportunities in the liberal arts and sciences.

Pictured: Zach Nickell ’17 uses a D-vac machine to sample arthropods in an Oklahoma prairie.

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit www.hendrix.edu.

* Nickell, Z., Varriano, S., Plemmons, E., & Moran, M. D. (2018). Ecosystem engineering by bison (Bison bison) wallowing increases arthropod community heterogeneity in space and time. Ecosphere, 9(9):e02436.