Students in the Stream Field Biology course taught by Duquesne University biologists Dr. Brady Porter and Ed Schroth have only one semester to dream up and complete a hands-on project. Still, in that short amount of time, they have managed to impact local communities.
Outside agencies had a chance to see their work at poster presentations on Dec. 7. For instance, one project mapped wetlands in Hampton Township, providing GPS points and photos. Porter, who is familiar with the project, explained that a culvert leading to Pine Creek drains this wetland to the lowest possible level and could be optimized for animals and humans if the culvert were allowed to collect more water.
“It could mitigate storm events and act as a better vernal pool, providing a stable habitat for larval salamanders,” Porter said. “It could be a win-win situation for biota and for the humans and property downstream.”
By having the information that the culvert could be modified to retain a larger vernal pool, the project becomes more valuable and could be eligible for additional funding, said Roy Kraynyk, executive director of Allegheny Land Trust (ALT), a leading local organization in preserving and conserving the environment.
Jessica Stewart, conservation planner and special projects coordinator with Allegheny Land Trust, attended the presentations and took back information about a number of projects, including those focused on Wingfield Pines, 80 acres it owns in Upper St. Clair and South Fayette townships.
A former golf course and swim club, Wingfield Pines had suffered from abandoned mine drainage (AMD), which injected 43 tons of iron oxide into Chartiers Creek each year. Schroth and Duquesne students have long been involved with the project, which now has a series of five settling ponds to passively treat the drainage. Several students focused on Wingfield Pines, monitoring the growth of aquatic plants, the migration of fish and other aspects of the waterway.
Permits for the AMD system required ALT to monitor the water quality of the system. “Duquesne, through Brady and Ed and its students, is providing the required monitoring by collecting and testing water samples, which is real-life experience for the students. They are generating data that we need to determine if the system is functioning as designed, which it is,” said Kraynyk.
One student, Brent Milliron, is working with the web designer at the land trust to create a website including new and historic data on Wingfield Pines, Stewart said. With the website, Milliron said the stream health of Wingfield Pines can be more easily determined, with data collected in one spot on pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, alkalinity and turbidity.
“We plan on updating it every month, as more data are collected,” explained Milliron, a senior majoring in biology at Duquesne.
“The work the students are doing is helping us to make better educated decisions about conservation and priorities,” said Kraynyk, noting that Duquesne-supplied information at other sites throughout Allegheny County helps the land trust to set its priorities for land conservation. “The students are more engaged with us now than ever before.”