Grow Dozen -
Wondering what’s fueling the success of UW athletes? Look no further than Red Whey, a recovery drink composed of tart red cherry juice and whey protein. The beverage was developed as a collaboration between the UW–Madison Athletic Department, CALS’ Center for Dairy Research and industry partners including Country Ovens-Cherry De-Lite. You can buy the drink at Metcalfe’s in Madison’s Hilldale Mall or order it from Country Ovens at (920) 856-6767, www.countryovens.com. It will soon be more widely available, producers say.
Geiss Meat Service in Merrill, Wisconsin, has been butchering livestock for farmers in Lincoln County and surrounding areas since 1956, cutting about 6,000 pounds of beef a day—that’s an average of eight to 10 beef cattle—into fresh steaks, chops, loins and roasts. But when third-generation owner Andrew Geiss took over the company in 2005, he was ready to try something new.
“I wanted to figure out a way to build up a retail business by expanding our sausage line,” he says. “I thought there was more money to be made by diversifying our products.” He added a smokehouse and started taking basic meat science classes at CALS—and soon discovered a satisfaction in crafting his own specialty meats that meat cutting alone couldn’t provide.
“There’s a lot of pride and art that goes into it. For instance, getting that perfectly round shape and uniformity in color when making a ham,” says Geiss. “You can’t imagine how much one thing in the smokehouse—for example, the humidity levels—changes everything, and how much work is involved.”
But the business side wasn’t going as well as he had hoped. “Honestly, I was at a point where we needed to make some serious changes with the consistency of our products in order to please customers and expand sales,” he says.
He found exactly the help he needed in 2010, when he was accepted into the inaugural class of the Master Meat Crafter training program at CALS. He and his classmates—16 men and one woman from small meat operations all around the state—traveled to Madison regularly over the course of two years for rigorous, hands-on instruction in meat science and processing, covering such areas as fresh meats, fermented and cured meats, cooked and emulsified sausage and meat microbiology and food safety.
That training earned Geiss the right to use the formal designation of Master Meat Crafter. But even more than the title, the program gave him the skills he needed to improve the quality, yields and markup on his products. “Now we’re doing a ton of different kinds of sausages, and everything is turning out just perfectly,” he reports. “And I don’t have to second-guess anything. I know that everything is exactly the way that I want it to be, and it turns out the same every time.”
The industry already has taken note of his improvements. Last summer Geiss Meat Service entered products for the first time in the American Cured Meat Championships and won awards in four categories, including first place in cooked ring bologna.
But even seasoned meat crafters see the value of the master course. The debut class included Louis E. Muench, a third-generation sausage maker who was inducted into the Wisconsin Meat Industry Hall of Fame in 2009. Since 1970, Louie’s Finer Meats in Cumberland has been crafting ham, bacon, bologna, breakfast links, salami, summer sausage and dozens of other products—and winning more than 300 state, national and international awards for their quality. Its creative staff also designs an extraordinary assortment of bratwurst, including applewurst, bacon cheeseburger, blueberry, pumpkin pie and wild rice and mushroom.
Why would someone with that level of expertise be interested in going back to school? “There’s so much technology that changes every day,” Muench says. As examples he cites new antimicrobials developed to combat foodborne pathogens and new government food safety, labeling and operations-related regulations, including changes that will for the first time allow Wisconsin’s state-inspected small processors to sell across state borders. “For our business to succeed in the long run, we need to keep current on everything and try to pass on as much knowledge as we can to keep the quality and the food safety up,” says Muench.
Within a year of completing the program, Muench had encouraged his son Louis and his brother William to sign up with the next group of students.
That’s the kind of success that the Master Meat Crafter program’s key partners—CALS, UW-Extension, the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors (WAMP)—envisioned when they determined that state-of-the-art training was needed to take the state’s specialty meat production to an even higher level.
Program director Jeff Sindelar, a CALS professor of animal sciences and UW-Extension meat specialist, designed it to be like an academic postgraduate program that would benefit even the most skilled and experienced artisans. In both structure and intent, the new program mirrors the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker program run by the Center for Dairy Research at CALS, which was a key player in turning Wisconsin’s specialty cheese business into a globally acclaimed leader that today accounts for more than 20 percent of Wisconsin’s total cheese production, up from a mere 4 percent in the 1990s.
The Master Meat Crafter program’s success will be measured over the long haul, says Sindelar: “It’s which of these plants will grow, add on, which plants are going to pass along the business, whether to family members or to other people who can continue the name. It’s really about longevity and viability of the industry.
When CALS sophomore Logan Wells tells you he spends his spare time sawing logs, he doesn’t mean he’s catching up on sleep. He’s actually out in the woods, running logs through his portable sawmill, making lumber for clients—and making money to help cover his college expenses.
Wells’s Smock Valley Timber is more than a business—it’s part of his education. He started it as a hands-on project for the National FFA Organization, the youth program focused on agricultural and natural resource careers, while he was still in high school. Wells enjoyed working the wood and growing the business so much that he opted to enroll in CALS as a forest and wildlife ecology major with an eye toward a career in forestry or forest products.
While practicing and studying forestry keeps Wells busy, the program that sent him into the woods in the first place keeps him even busier. Logan is a state vice president in the Wisconsin FFA Association, representing 24 FFA chapters in Dane, Rock and Green counties.
Much of that work involves going out to middle and high schools, where he encourages FFA members to get active in the program and talks with them about the importance of “soft” skills—a positive attitude, good work habits, teamwork and other traits that can put them on the path to success.
His own high school FFA project helps them understand where a good idea and a good attitude can take them. His timber enterprise paid off in more than money. It earned a top prize in a national FFA competition, which in turn earned him a spot on an agricultural exchange trip to Costa Rica featuring visits to banana, coffee and cacao plantations, whitewater rafting and trips through the rainforest on zip lines and suspension bridges—all very exciting stuff for students to hear about.
“I get to tell them my story and inspire them to do something like that for themselves,” Wells says.
Like many and much more nimble Neotropical fauna, sloths are running out of room to maneuver.
As forests in South America and Central America are cleared for agriculture and other human uses, populations of these arboreal leaf eaters, which depend on large trees for both food and refuge, can become isolated and at risk. But one type of sustainable agriculture, shade-grown cacao plantations, could become critical refuges and bridges between intact forests for the iconic animals.
In Costa Rica, CALS forestry and wildlife ecology professors Jonathan Pauli and Zach Peery are using a complex of intact tropical forest, pasture, and banana and pineapple plantations—all connected by a large, shade-grown cacao farm—as a field laboratory to explore the ecology of two species of sloths in a rapidly changing environment.
“We know a lot about sloth physiology,” says Pauli. “But when it comes to sloth ecology and behavior, we know almost nothing. It’s a giant black box.”
But some of that mystery is being peeled away as studies of both the brown-throated three-toed sloth and Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth, two common species, are yielding new insights into their mating habits and how the animals navigate the landscape.
The fact that sloths require forested habitat and are sedentary makes them vulnerable to deforestation, says Peery. “Once a tract of tropical forest has been cleared, sloths have relatively little capacity to seek out new habitats.”
But the shade-grown cacao plantation, with its tall trees and network of cables for moving the pods that ultimately become chocolate, seems to be a de facto refuge and transit hub.
“Because of the diverse overstory of native trees, the cacao farm appears to provide excellent habitat for both species of sloths,” explains Peery. “We want to compare sloth populations in cacao to populations in intact tropical forests to see if cacao provides habitat that is of as high a quality as their natural forests.”
Fleshing out those ecological parameters, however, requires a better basic understanding of sloth behavior, knowledge the CALS researchers are now beginning to accumulate.
For example, in a study recently published in Animal Behavior, Pauli and Peery described the mating system of Hoffmann’s two-toed sloths and showed that, unlike many other animals, the females tend to disperse from their home range and that the breeding territories of males can slightly overlap, with males tolerating competitors on the fringes but excluding them, sometimes violently, from the core. And Hoffmann’s two-toed sloths of both sexes seem to have multiple partners as well. “They’re more promiscuous than previously thought,” says Pauli. “We see a much more flexible system of multiple matings.”
That’s not so for the three-toed sloth. In another study, published in PLoS ONE in December, they found that three-toed sloths are strongly polygynous—males exclude other male competitors and mate with many females.
In addition to contributing to basic sloth knowledge, these findings should help wildlife and land managers in the Neotropics make sound decisions to better balance development and conservation.
“Understanding how shade-grown agriculture can benefit sensitive tropical animals such as sloths is highly relevant, considering the ongoing and rapid loss of biodiversity in the Neotropics,” notes Pauli. “What kinds of ecological services can these already altered landscapes provide? Can we mitigate future biodiversity loss with a greater emphasis on shade-grown agricultural systems than crops grown in monocultures? That’s the future we’re facing.”
Because of their sedentary nature and dependence on forest, sloths can be viewed as an “umbrella species,” says Peery. “Protecting sloths could indirectly protect many other animal species in tropical forests that are harder to measure and study.”
Not long ago, one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions on earth—Yunnan Province on China’s southwestern border, with its great river gorges, sweeping grasslands and majestic Himalayan mountains—was virtually inaccessible to outsiders.
Golden snub-nosed monkeys, black-necked cranes, snow leopards, Tibetan bears and an astounding number of other animals and plants thrive in its temperate forests and alpine meadows. And five million people from 26 of China’s 55 ethnic minorities live in the province’s remote high-altitude forests and valleys.
This biologically sensitive region has for the past half-dozen years been a field site for collaboration between the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Yunnan, a partnership that focuses on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.
The idea arose from conversations between visiting scientist Ji Weizhi, former director of the Kunming Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Yunnan, and Kenneth Shapiro, an emeritus professor of agricultural and applied economics who was then associate dean of international agricultural programs at CALS.
“Ji was impressed by the interdisciplinary approaches that some of the UW departments were using to address complex problems like biodiversity conservation,” says Shapiro. “Ji could see that the traditional narrow ‘stovepipe’ or isolated discipline approach to biodiversity research cannot bridge the gaps in understanding diverse problems in biodiversity conservation. He understood that scientists needed a broader understanding of the relationships between the biology, livelihoods, economics and politics of Yunnan to protect its biodiversity and promote sustainable development.”
Yunnan’s name roughly translates to “south of the colorful clouds”—and indeed, the province’s beauty is self-evident. Less obvious, perhaps, is its environmental importance. The region provides critical ecological services across much of Asia. To take water alone as an example, nearly half of China’s population, along with millions of other southeast Asians, depend on the fresh water passing through the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, which lie within the drainage basins of the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween rivers. If the natural forests in this region were destroyed, vast areas and populations downstream would suffer from severe floods and huge reductions of water supplies and quality.
After centuries of semi-isolation, Yunnan—the northwestern part of the province in particular—has been discovered by China’s new middle class of tourists, most of them Han Chinese, who make up more than 92 percent of China’s population. Where only hikers, horses and mules trod before, roads are being built by local and provincial governments to carry millions of tourists. Old-growth forests are being logged to accommodate them. Yunnan’s ethnic communities are having to transform centuries-old land use traditions. And the government is pressing Yunnan for economic development. Ji was aware that transforming Yunnan could have devastating effects on its biodiversity, on China’s fresh water supplies and on the livelihoods of ethnic minorities.
What Yunnan’s scientists needed was a model of an interdisciplinary approach to sustainable development and biodiversity conservation. Collaboration with UW, it was hoped, would mark a pioneering step toward developing that model.
Shapiro and other UW scientists, led by the late Josh Posner (see sidebar on page 27), found a home and funding for their part of the partnership under the auspices of IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship), a highly competitive National Science Foundation program that supports scientists and engineers pursuing graduate degrees in fields that cross disciplines and are deemed to have broad societal impact. The UW proposal drew on the strong support of the staff of CALS international programs, and the research also benefited from significant supplementary funding from the Graduate School, the chancellor’s office and the CAS.
Nineteen UW doctoral students, called “trainees,” were selected from disciplines ranging from political science and economics to conservation biology and anthropology, and included five CALS trainees from agronomy, forest and wildlife ecology, and community and environmental sociology. All participants were expected to learn Mandarin Chinese and, beyond their own disciplines, become literate in other fields relevant to conservation and sustainable development. While in Madison, trainees also attended weekly seminars on Northwest Yunnan’s history, politics, culture, society and ecology.
While some trainees received help getting their initial permits and contacts in Yunnan, it was up to each of them to work through such daily obstacles as getting around, finding translators for the many dialects and gaining the trust of locals.
Most trainees had done some kind of international work before joining IGERT. For example, Jodi Brandt in forest and wildlife ecology had worked in Guatemala with the Peace Corps, and community and environmental sociologist John Zinda had lived and taught in China.
Quark (pronounced “kwark”), is a fresh cheese that is very common in Europe, where it mostly is eaten as a spread on bread–much the way we use cream cheese–or mixed with fruit or herbs and eaten like yogurt. Master cheesemaker Bob Wills, an alumnus of the CALS Center for Dairy Research (CDR) and owner of Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, may be credited with bringing quark to our state. He’s producing it at Clock Shadow Creamery, his new cheese plant in Milwaukee. You can buy quark there or in a number of supermarkets under the Cedar Grove label–or you can be bold and try making your own. It’s easier to make than yogurt and requires no special equipment. You’ll need three cups to make the scrumptious German cheesecake recipe we provide below. Here’s a quark recipe from Mike Molitor, CDR process pilot plant manager.
Makes 1 1/3 cups of quark
4 cups whole milk
3 Tablespoons buttermilk with live cultures
Use a large pan with a lid. Heat milk to about 170°F for at least 30 seconds. It’s fine if a skin forms on it, but avoid scalding the milk to prevent a cooked or burnt flavor.
Remove from heat, put on the lid and let milk cool to room temperature. Then whisk buttermilk into the milk. Replace the lid and let the milk sit undisturbed at room temperature for 12 to 14 hours or until it’s the consistency of yogurt.
Once the milk has curdled, strain it by layering a sieve with cheesecloth, pouring the milk into the sieve and allowing it to drain overnight in the refrigerator. What’s left in the sieve is quark. You may need to stir the quark a few times to get it to drain thoroughly.
Even Easier, Buttermilk Only
Instead of adding buttermilk to plain milk—a process that essentially means you are “making” buttermilk—you can simply purchase a gallon of buttermilk (typically 1 percent butterfat) and strain it in the refrigerator as directed in the last paragraph above to obtain the quark.
Courtesy of Clock Shadow Creamery
Kasekuchen (German Cheesecake with Quark)
¼ cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup wheat flour (can substitute white flour)
¼ cup white refined sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3 cups quark
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 cup white refined sugar
½ cup dry milk powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
Powdered sugar for dusting cake
To make dough:
Mix eggs and sugar thoroughly. Combine wheat flour and baking powder. Cut butter (in small pieces) into flour mixture. Add egg/sugar mixture. Knead all into combined homogenous dough ball. Take 2/3 of dough and roll flat ¼ inch thick. Place in bottom of spring form pan. Take the 1/3 and make a long roll (like a snake), place around the outer edge and press into place (create a little rim).
To make filling:
Combine cornstarch, sugar, dry milk powder, and salt. Combine with quark. Separate egg. Mix egg yolks and vanilla extract. Mix thoroughly with quark mixture. Whisk egg whites to stiff peaks, and fold gently into the quark mixture. Spread the filling onto the dough in the spring form pan.
Bake at 325 F for 45-55 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Dust with powdered sugar and place in fridge for 30 minutes.
Where to find quark from Clock Shadow Creamery:
1. You will not suddenly develop migraines upon entry. Rather, a “tension zone” describes a geographic area that marks a change from one type of vegetation to another, with species from both areas intermingling in that zone.
2. There’s a pronounced tension zone in Wisconsin. It stretches in a loose S-shape from Burnett County in the north all across the state, ending in Racine County in the south. Wisconsin’s tension zone marks the crossover between the Northern Mixed Forest—closely related to the forests of northeastern Minnesota, northern Michigan, southern Ontario, and New England—and the Southern Broadleaf Forest, which is more like forests you’d see in Ohio and Indiana. In the tension zone you’ll find plants and animals representing both of these forest types. Before the landscape in the south was developed and converted to farms, you would have seen primarily open oak savanna with forest and prairie.
3. It’s mostly about climate. The tension zone is marked by a
climatic gradient, with cooler, moister conditions to the north and relatively warmer, drier conditions to the south. Up to the 1800s, these southern conditions were more favorable to higher populations of Native Americans—and they were a greater cause of fire, both purposeful and accidental. This maintained more open conditions in the south.
4. It’s a fruitful area for research. John Curtis, a famous Wisconsin plant ecologist, and his graduate students in the 1950s identified the tension zone as a place where relatively more plant species had their northern and southern range limits. His book, The Vegetation of Wisconsin (1959), talks about this and includes a map of the number of species reaching their limits in each county. Today, researchers are again very interested in the tension zone because of changes in land use that have endangered some native plant species. Also, with climate warming, the area is of interest to both climate scientists and plant ecologists, who are looking at how the tension zone is and will be moving north—and its potential effects on ecosystems.
5. You’ll know you’re in the tension zone when you’re heading north and … oaks that are dominant in southern Wisconsin, such as Bur, black and white, meet up abruptly with red and white pine as well as paper birch and tamarack swamps that are more characteristic of the north. Shagbark drops out completely and bitternut hickory becomes much less common. You’ll start seeing some birds that are absent or relatively uncommon in the south: common loon, ruffed grouse, osprey, common raven, white-throated sparrow and purple finch. You’ll also encounter northern mammals: snowshoe hare, porcupine, red squirrel, black bear and timber wolf.
David Mladenoff is the Beers–Bascom Professor in Conservation in the Department of Forestry and Wildlife Ecology
Rachel Glab recently spent time on an idyllic Caribbean island, but she wasn’t there to stick her toes in the sand.
Rather, Glab was in Montserrat on bird business—specifically, researching how to protect the Montserrat oriole, a species facing various threats. Glab spent three days on the island interviewing a range of local residents and members of the United Kingdom-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. She also performed fieldwork including blood collection and banding, working under the direction of CALS ornithologist and animal sciences professor Mark Berres.
“My goal was to gain experience in data analysis and genetic work, along with developing and conducting interviews to gain broad perspectives on how to protect the oriole—what’s working, what isn’t, and what it really takes to get people together to facilitate positive change for a species,” says Glab.
Travel abroad wasn’t really in the cards for her, at least not for now. Glab, 27, is paying her own way through school. She is a licensed veterinary technician with AAS degrees in both veterinary medicine and laboratory animal medicine, and she has a job taking care of research animals at the UW’s Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research (WIMR). Her work at WIMR convinced her to get her bachelor’s degree, and she plans to pursue a degree in medicine after graduating.
International travel would have been beyond her means without funding from the CALS Study Abroad Scholarship Fund, which was just renamed the Kenneth H. Shapiro CALS Study Abroad Fund in honor of the recently retired professor of agricultural and applied economics and former associate dean and director of CALS International Programs.
Throughout his career Shapiro greatly expanded CALS research and service partnerships with countries around the world and raised scholarship funds so that all students could participate.
Numerous studies and testimonials confirm the benefits of study abroad, which include developing a globally minded workforce, allowing students to study natural resources not available in the United States and—perhaps most important—offering students a broader, richer experience of the world.
Glab speaks to some of those benefits. “The experience made me look at our country differently, at the way we live and the access we have to things here,” says Glab, noting that people in Montserrat make do with much less. “My interactions with residents and conservationists there were priceless to me. I’ve come back with greater awareness of what we have and what we can do together.”
To help support the Kenneth H. Shapiro CALS Study Abroad Fund, visit: supportuw.org/giveto/shapirostudyabroad
The UW Foundation maintains more than 6,000 gift funds that provide critical resources for the educational and research activities of CALS.
LAST FALL I spent an afternoon near Baraboo sitting in a tree stand across from a woman with a rifle. Perched in another crook was our hunting mentor, Karl Malcolm MS’08 PHD’11, then a CALS doctoral student in forest and wildlife ecology. Malcolm was the organizer of that weekend’s Learn to Hunt program, which was the reason I ignored my fear of heights and climbed 15 feet in the air. The woman with the rifle was Kristen Cyffka, a UW–Madison grad student in statistics with an interest in sustainable food. That day would be our chance to shoot a deer—if we saw one. The temperature was unseasonably hot, the deer scarce.
As the sun began to set, the air cooled and the golden light dimmed over the thickets and fields. In the silence, the occasional rustle took on thrilling clarity. This, whispered Malcolm, is the magic hour.
But Cyffka had woken up before 3 a.m. for an earlier hunt, and as the woods grew tranquil, the breeze gentle, I saw her head begin to droop. The rifle remained propped on the armrest of her tree stand. My first instinct was to nudge her with my foot, but then I decided to rouse her in the least startling way I could and instead whispered her name in a soothing murmur. I was learning that you rethink a lot of things when you’re out in the woods in the presence of a loaded gun.
Karl Malcolm has been an avid hunter and angler since his teens, and when he enrolled in the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, he assumed he’d be among fellow hunters.
“I thought I’d meet lots of people with the same feeling I had,” says Malcolm, who is now based in New Mexico as a Presidential Management Fellow with the USDA Forest Service. But when he started talking about his love of hunting and fishing, the other students thought hunting was “barbaric and disrespectful to animals, and that it was all about bloodlust,” he says. “It didn’t at all jibe with my personal experience.” As he began to evaluate and articulate his hunting experiences for others, Malcolm found the initial seed for his interest in teaching others to hunt.
Wisconsin’s Learn to Hunt (LTH) programs have been around since 1997, inspired by the Wisconsin Student Hunter Program, which CALS forest and wildlife ecology professors Don Rusch and Scott Craven had launched in 1993 to ensure that the department’s students gained hands-on experience in hunting and understood its history and role in conservation. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) adapted that into LTH programs designed to recruit new hunters, initially focusing on turkey and pheasant before expanding into deer. The LTH program introduces novices to hunting in a controlled manner by pairing them with mentors on a one-to-one basis. After at least four hours of classroom and field instruction in topics like gun safety, ethical shooting and finding and setting up a hunting site, participants and mentors go out into the fields to experience the hunt firsthand.
Most organizers charge nothing for the course. Mentors must have at least five years’ experience hunting the chosen animal; they also may apply to serve as organizers of an LTH program. Learners must be at least 10 years old and never have received a hunting license for the species being hunted. On paper, Malcolm has organized his programs as an individual, but in practice help comes not only from the DNR but also from the CALS Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, thanks to such hunting mentors as professors Mike Samuel and Tim Van Deelen and engaged students and alumni like Steve Grodsky MS’10, Dan Storm PhD’11 and Mike Watt BS’07 MS’12.
“Other folks who are interested in putting together similar programs should know they can do it and the DNR will be there to back them up,” explains Malcolm.
Now prospective hunters have additional and quite significant support thanks to the Hunters Network of Wisconsin, a joint project between CALS, the DNR and UW–Extension that is dedicated to recruiting more hunters. The effort began with a survey of hunting and conservation organizations conducted by CALS/UW Extension life sciences communication professor Bret Shaw and research associate Beth Ryan, funded with a DNR grant. The survey, which would then inform strategic outreach to mentors and interested non-hunters, identified resources the organizations already used or would like to use more, from assistance in finding interested participants to funds to sponsor LTH events and volunteer education and training.
But perhaps even more significant was the survey’s focus on hunters’ motivations for taking part in the sport. The top reasons people named for hunting were spending time outdoors, being close to nature, using and sharing skills and knowledge, and camaraderie with friends and family. The Hunters Network hopes to use this insight to make mentoring new hunters more appealing.
There’s a compelling reason for all of this outreach. Hunting is an important part of Wisconsin’s history and culture. It also has a $1.4 billion impact on the state’s economy and supports some 26,000 jobs, according to the DNR.
Yet Wisconsin has experienced an ongoing decline in hunting in recent years. A study from February 2011 by the DNR and the UW-based Applied Population Laboratory found that the number of gun deer hunting licenses sold to the state’s residents dropped 6.5 percent, from 644,991 in 2000 to 602,791 in 2010. The report predicts that by 2030, the number of male gun deer hunters (who make up the bulk of hunters, though the number of female hunters is expected to rise) could drop to 400,000.
It may sound unlikely. Certainly it sounds idyllic. But there’s a university course where professors may interrupt class to watch sturgeon swim by, and where lectures may be delivered from the bottom of soil pits or gathered around a campfire.
It’s Forestry Summer Camp, a three-week course offered by the forest and wildlife ecology department at CALS’ Kemp Natural Resources Station near Minocqua. The camp, which takes place every other year, introduces students to the information and skills they need to assess a forest’s natural resources—and also gives them ample opportunities to practice those skills in the field.
“It helps us get an idea of forestry and what it entails to see if it’s a good fit for what we want to do in the future,” says CALS junior Kelsey Egelhoff, who attended camp along with 26 other students this summer.
The department’s idea is to have new forestry majors take the course as early as possible. “It’s meant to provide new students with the excitement, the motivation and the context they need to do well in their remaining courses,” says forest and wildlife ecology professor Eric Kruger, one of the camp’s three coordinators.
Early on, students are divided into groups of four and assigned 250-acre tracts of land, called “compartments,” in the nearby Northern Highland American Legion State Forest to survey over the coming weeks. But even just the first step—setting up a compartment’s research plots—is no small matter.
Egelhoff estimates that her group walked for eight hours one day, guided by GPS, to mark their plots with red-flagged stakes—and they only got halfway done. “But even if it’s hard work, just being outside and getting to enjoy it all is really nice,” says Egelhoff, who hopes to go to graduate school and study redwoods in California.
Next the groups use modern tools and techniques to assess the birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, soils, woody debris, shrubs and trees on their plots, gathering data for a summary of their compartments and a final research project.
“One unique feature of our camp is that we have students explore the data that they collect and answer specific questions that are pertinent to their interests,” says Kruger.
The camp experience, he adds, has value beyond motivating students.
“I would guess that most employers have been through similar camps in their lives and fully appreciate the importance of these camps for the development of young professionals,” Kruger says.
It’s a great biological mystery—how millions of migratory birds make epic journeys between their breeding and wintering grounds every year, rarely losing their way.
They actually use some of the same tools we do—but theirs are inborn. “Migratory birds and humans need at least a map and a compass to find their way—a map for route and distance, and a compass to stay on course,” notes Stan Temple, an emeritus professor of forest and wildlife ecology.
“Many young migratory birds are born with an innate map that gives them direction and distance to travel during migration,” says Temple. This is evident from the many young birds that make their first migration without their parents. They get a sense of direction—their compass—from environmental cues.
Other birds, such as the young of swans, cranes and some other large birds, are born with the instinct to migrate but learn a migratory route from their parents during their first migration.
”We have strong evidence of celestial cues, the earth’s magnetic fields and other environmental cues,” says Temple. “Birds use the most accurate navigational cues available at the time, often the sun and stars. When skies are overcast, birds may fall back on geomagnetic cues.”
Birds can get a mind-boggling wealth of information from the positions of the sun and stars—patterns that constantly are changing throughout the day, throughout the seasons and from northern to southern hemispheres.
Human sea-goers use a clock, a compass, maps and a sextant to navigate by stars and sun. (The clock is essential.) Avian travelers are equipped with several internal clocks and a genetically programmed map.
Migratory birds can use the earth’s magnetic field as a compass. The earth’s magnetism is strongest at the poles and progressively weaker toward the equator. Birds may identify north-south directions by sensing differences in the strength of the earth’s magnetic field. Very recent studies have identified a region of the migrating bird’s brain that can detect magnetism.
Birds learn to use landmarks—such as mountain ranges, shorelines and large lakes—from their first migration. Landmarks are most useful as a bird gets close to its destination.
TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND YEARS ago, our Paleolithic ancestors got plenty of sun. Scantily draped in animal hides, they spent their days roaming outdoors, hunting and gathering food. With so much sun exposure, they made a lot of vitamin D, the “sun vitamin,” through their skin—around 10,000 units per day, biologists estimate.
Today, with lifestyles that keep us indoors and in vehicles, we don’t get out in the sun nearly as much. And when we do, we often slather ourselves in sunscreen to avoid skin cancer—a protective measure that unfortunately also blocks production of vitamin D. Although we get vitamin D from our food, primarily through fatty fish and fortified milk, yogurt and cereal, there’s been growing concern over the past decade that we aren’t getting enough, and that we may be missing out on a number of the vitamin’s health benefits that we’re just starting to understand.
And if newspaper headlines are to be believed, we could be missing quite a lot. Week after week, articles are published touting vitamin D’s protective role in a wide range of diseases and ailments—cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancers of the colon, breast and prostate, cold and flu, asthma, autism, depression, osteoporosis, arthritis, neurodegenerative disease, multiple sclerosis, type I diabetes—and even longevity. But don’t count on all of these studies panning out, warns CALS biochemist Hector DeLuca. DeLuca should know—he’s a globally recognized authority on vitamin D whose six decades of research laid the groundwork for much of what we know and are discovering about it today.
“I’m really worried about how much attention vitamin D has received lately because we did this with vitamin E many years ago—where vitamin E was going to cure all kinds of things and of course it didn’t—and it’s completely off the radar screen now,” DeLuca says. “I don’t want that to happen to vitamin D because there are many places where it’s really effective.”
So what are vitamin D’s health benefits, and what do we need to do to maximize them? Both are huge questions in the scientific and medical fields. At this point, only one thing is certain: vitamin D is essential for strong bones. Beyond that, the jury is out because we don’t have the large, randomized human clinical trials required to make those calls—yet.
Nevertheless, there have been a significant number of promising in vitro and animal studies over the years, enough to convince many vitamin D researchers to increase their own doses. And when the U.S. Institute of Medicine in 2010 raised the Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin D from 400 to 600 units per day for adults—taking into consideration only the vitamin’s impact on bone health—it didn’t sit well with many members of the vitamin D research community who think the recommended intake should be considerably higher.
“Many people thought that was absolutely absurd—that people should actually be taking anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 units a day,” says Wes Pike, another CALS vitamin D researcher who is internationally respected for his work. “But the committee didn’t take any risks. They discounted all the other things that people believe higher amounts of vitamin D could be beneficial for—muscle function, a healthy immune system, combating cancer and so much more. And some of those things are real, it’s just that there’s no strong clinical evidence for them yet.”
Fortunately, there soon will be a lot more solid evidence about vitamin D’s health impacts—on heart disease, stroke, cancer and more—thanks to a large clinical trial that’s gearing up at the Institute of Medicine’s request. As scientists, doctors and the public wait for answers, CALS researchers are working in parallel, leading an equally important effort to shine a light on vitamin D’s mode of action inside the body and to explore and understand new vitamin D-based treatments for disease—as they have for almost a century.
The story of vitamin D is largely a CALS story. It was identified by biochemist Elmer McCollum, who discovered vitamins A and B as a young faculty member at CALS before joining Johns Hopkins University, where in 1921 he found a substance that cured the bone-softening disease rickets—and named it vitamin D, as it was then the fourth vitamin known to science. In 1923 CALS biochemist Harry Steenbock figured out how to biofortify food with vitamin D by exposing it to ultraviolet light, a discovery that led to the almost complete eradication of rickets by the mid-1940s.
As his last graduate student, Steenbock in 1951 brought on Hector DeLuca, a promising young chemist from the University of Colorado. At Steenbock’s request, DeLuca stayed on to run his lab. “Steenbock was nearing retirement and wasn’t physically well, so he asked if I would stay after my Ph.D. and direct the research in his lab,” says DeLuca. The offer turned into a faculty position in 1959.
“At the time there was a lot we didn’t know about vitamin D and how it makes better bones,” says DeLuca. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we try to figure out how it works, and maybe we’ll learn how certain diseases take place?’ That was my motivation.”