Thursday, October 3, 2019

Central Wyoming Students team up with UW and the Eastern Shoshone Bison Restoration project for an adventure in data collection

Guest post by CWC Student George Sims

On September 27, students from Central Wyoming College teamed with personnel from the University of Wyoming to conduct microbial research through soil testing in connection with the Eastern Shoshone Bison Restoration Project on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
                The sampling is funded by EPSCoR, the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, which fulfills the mandate of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to promote scientific progress nationwide.  The goals of Wyoming EPSCoR are to facilitate the building of research educational infrastructure, to increase the diversity of participants in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—and to administer awards to increase national research competitiveness.  EPSCoR also provides funding at CWC for the Interdisciplinary Climate Change Expedition (ICCE), which conducts cutting-edge research in environmental studies and archaeology on the Dinwoody Glacier, as well as independent research projects by students at the college’s Alpine Science Institute. 
The microbial research project, using cutting-edge techniques including DNA sequencing and computational modeling, will help scientists learn the distribution and ecological consequences of microbes, a valuable approach to understanding the environmental effects of the reintroduction of bison in Fremont County.
            Dr. Tarissa Spoonhunter, instructor of American Indian Studies at CWC, coordinated the activity, which began with a meeting of participants at the CWC Intertribal Education and Community Center. Dr. Brad Tyndall, CWC president, welcomed the group and applauded the success of the restoration program, followed by a presentation by Jason Baldes, representing the Eastern Shoshone tribe and the National Wildlife Federation, on the bison reintroduction effort, which aims to restore a herd of wild buffalo to reservation lands.  Historically, bison have had cultural, economic and spiritual significance to the tribe, and today about three dozen animals comprise the local population, on tribal lands east of Riverton.
            The reintroduction of bison will affect the microbial composition of the soil, possibly leading to changes in the plant community on the site, perhaps the re-appearance of once-common indigenous species.  According to University of Wyoming EPSCoR, a $20 million grant from the NSF “will allow us to conduct microbial research at a scale that isn’t taking place anywhere else on the planet. Once we know what organisms are there, including their genetic capacity, we can figure out how we can make use of them”.
            Upon arrival at the site, Baldes supervised a group of middle school students from Arapahoe in an activity designed to teach awareness of the project.  At the same time, CWC students were engaged in actual soil testing at bison wallows throughout the study area, using protocols developed by the University of Wyoming research team, which oversaw the effort.
CWC Student, Cassie Weed, CWC Environmental Science/GIST

           Jacki Klancher, CWC professor of environmental science and health, and director of the Alpine Science Institute, commented, “This project is yet another example of the great partnership CWC enjoys with UW and EPSCoR.  It gives our students another valuable tool to use in their own research efforts, and we may well incorporate the techniques learned today in our ongoing studies of glacial change on Dinwoody Glacier.  In addition to the Interdisciplinary Climate Change Expedition, ASI students have been very active in other independent and collaborative scientific studies that have been supported by EPSCoR, and have presented the results of their research at symposia not only in Wyoming, but throughout the world.”