Biology students help local family clear pond


Submitted Photo

Reese Hussey, biology student participating in the student work on Gooseberry Farm performing tests with hydrogen peroxide on algae that is taking over a pond.

Years ago, Bernard and Marie Kliebenstein were able to look at their pond on Gooseberry Hill, a small farm just outside of Platteville, and enjoy the sight of blue water. Three generations later, Becky Kliebenstein, one of the current shareholders of the property, looks at the pond and sees a lower water level, unwanted algae and duckweed.

Kliebenstein’s family members wanted to combat the problem of the growing vegetation problem before the two acre pond was no longer recognizable.  To do this, the family looked to a handful of different consultants, including the University of Wisconsin-Platteville biology department.

For the past four semesters, assistant professor of biology Rebecca Doyle-Morin’s has had over 100 students from the fundamentals of biological investigation and invertebrate zoology classes partner with the Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement to conduct research to determine how to clear the algae from the Kleibenstein’s pond.

The algae and overwhelming vegetation in the pond were caused by agricultural runoff, resulting in the bottom of the pond being covered in feet of dredging–nutrients that are unnecessary for the pond that need removal.

“Hundreds of years of runoff have changed the pond,” Kliebenstein said.  “We would really like to see how the aquatic center could be changed without harming the natural habitat for the organisms that live there.”

Doyle-Morin’s students have been working during each semester and over the summer to determine how to combat the problem.  Currently, the classes have been experimenting with barley straw.  The chemical composition of barley straw recently has been proven to break down algae and inhibit unnecessary vegetation growth without harming the natural habitat.

One of the problems the students have seen with working with barley straw is that it takes a long time to decompose and release the necessary nutrients.  The classes then tried other forms of barley like pellets or barley straw extract, but these are not cost effective for the owners of Gooseberry Hill.

“I love how my students have the ability to see both sides of the scientific process,” Doyle-Morin said.  “They are able to do experiments as well as see the economic side that relates to the partners.”

Since the students have to find less expensive alternatives to the barley straw, the next round of students are going to be working with hydrogen peroxide, which is released by barley straw, rather than use the whole plant.

Hydrogen peroxide is highly available, cost effective and breaks down algae.  The students will determine if the chemical will be harmful to other organisms that live in the pond.

Kayla Krager, junior biology major, is a current student in Doyle-Morin’s FBI class.

“We specifically tested the effect of hydrogen peroxide on Scenedesmus, beneficial green algae, and Anabaena, a harmful type of cyanobacteria, aka blue-green algae,” Krager said.  “I hope that our research has pushed this goal one step closer to being used for the recreational purposes it is intended to provide.”

“I like to see the benefits the students get from leaving the classroom,” Kliebenstein said.  “Running their own data allows them to experience science from the field.”

“Being able to use skills from a course here at UW-Platteville to come up with a solution to a real world problem was very rewarding,” Matthew Grieser, junior biology major, said.

Doyle-Morin said that the students love to present their work on PACCE poster day.

“This allows the students to interact with the partners and describe their findings,” Doyle-Morin said.  “It gives them the chance to explain the information to the non-scientist community.”