Publication Year

Fall 1984





Document Type



Ecological research on plants and plant communities has been an active program at UWM, Involving several faculty, many undergraduate and graduate students and the UWM Field Station. Aquatic and urban environments, forests and wetlands have received most attention although prairie and landscape ecology and endangered species have not been neglected. Descriptive, theoretical and applied studies are Included spanning the spectrum from the autecology of a single species to examination of entire landscapes. Over the period of 20 years, 54 M.S. theses, nine Ph.D. dissertations and numerous published papers and reports have resulted. University-sponsored research serves several purposes: discovery of new and specific knowledge, the application of this knowledge and of research skills to problems of society, and, not least, the training of new generations of scientists. Programs may be oriented narrowly toward the specific Interests of the senior researchers or they may be directed toward a more varied interest of successive groups of students and toward the evident needs for basic Information. The availability of travel funds, supplies and equipment may also influence the choice of research problems. Worldwide, ecological research began of necessity with descriptive studies of communities and autecology of species. Research moved from description of "what" was present to "why" and "how" -- delving into function in relation to environmental factors, into species interactions and eventually various aspects of community development and plant and animal relationships. More recently, ecologists have begun to examine the interrelationships between ecosystems and the influence of human activities upon these relationships. Our work at UWM spans the entire range from community description and function and species-environment interactions to landscape ecology. Descriptive studies are particularly well-adapted for master's research; they provide the student with an opportunity to explore and see for himself the complexity of plant communities and ecosystem function and to accomplish this within a reasonable time. More complex, descriptive studies and those concerned with function and complex Interrelationships, generally building on earlier descriptive work and on theoretical work from elsewhere, require experience and time, hence are better suited for Ph.D. dissertations. Since 1965 there have been 54 master's theses and nine Ph.D. dissertations completed in plant ecology. Twelve authors of M.S. theses have continued on to the doctorate, either at UWM or elsewhere. Research in plant ecology at UWM has been largely under the direction of faculty members Philip 8. Whitford and Peter Salamun (now retired), John Blum and Forest Stearns. In addition to graduate student and faculty research, many undergraduate research projects have provided valuable information on the local flora and plant communities. Over the years our ecological research has developed in many directions, including studies of aquatic communities, wetlands, forests and urban systems, and, more recently, endangered species. Earlier emphasis on prairies resulted from P. B. Whitford's interest and early training. Most ecological research has been centered in southeastern Wisconsin, although several studies have been conducted elsewhere in and outside of Wisconsin. The International Biological Program (1967 to 1974) placed strong emphasis on productivity of ecosystems. and productivity studies of Wisconsin ecosystems were carried out at UWM in cooperation with UW-Madison (Stearns et al. 1971, 1973). The former manager of the UWM Field Station, Paul Matthiae, cooperated in several of these studies. Financial support has come from organizations as diverse as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, The Wisconsin Coastal Zone Program, the UW College Sea Grant Program, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Park Service, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy. A benchmark site still active today was established at the Field Station in 1970 in cooperation with the U.S. IBP Phenology Program. Many research projects have been done by students utilizing their own resources or with very moderate amounts of University support. Alphabetical lists of theses and dissertations are appended and thesis advisors are indicated. Theses are cited by name only. Summaries of many of these theses have appeared in the Field Station Bulletin. Other pertinent references listed by author and cited with the date will be found in the Literature Cited list. The first UWM doctoral degree in Botany was awarded in 1968 to Thomas Grittinger for a study on vegetational patterns and edaphic relationships in the Cedarburg Bog; much of our understanding of the plant communities of the bog is derived from that study. The late Professor A. L. Throne deserves much credit for initial work in plant ecology. His efforts to establish a UWM Field Station led to its final acquisition in 1964 with the financial support of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. During the early 1970's three major research thrusts began to develop broadly - forest, wetland and urban ecology. Our emphasis on urban ecology began with a national workshop in Austin, Texas, which was organized at UWM, sponsored by the Institute of Ecology and funded by the National Science Foundation (Stearns and Montag 1974). In 1970 a team of plant ecology graduate students and faculty surveyed 17 potential national landmark sites in Wisconsin and Michigan. One result of that survey was the designation of the UWM Maple-Beech Woods and the Department of Natural Resources' Cedarburg B09 as National Natural Landmarks. Recently, in cooperation with Norman Lasca (UWM-Geology) and his students, a theme study was completed for the Superior Upland Physiographic Region (Stearns et al. 1982a), and this year three prairie sites were evaluated for the Park Service.