By Glen Young
A centennial celebration is always an auspicious anniversary. This is
certainly true on the shores of Douglass Lake in northern Emmet County
where the University of Michigan Biological Station recently
celebrated 100 years of scientific inquiry.
To mark the milestone, station director Knute Nadlehoffer and two
colleagues edited The Changing Environment of Northern Michigan.
Subtitled A Century of Science and Nature at the University of
Michigan Biological Station, editors Nadlehoffer, Alan Hogg, and
Brian Hazlett have collected the work of myriad experts in various
fields of study who have worked at the biological station. There are
chapters on the developing forests, the rivers and lake, as well as
entries on the flora and fauna found in northern Michigan.
About five years before our centennial we started planning centennial
events and we decided that one useful outcome would be a book,
Nadlehoffer says. He and his collaborators recognized that the work
done at the place sometimes known by insiders as bug camp, had been
written about before. There have been thousands of peer reviewed
journal papers written about the work done at the biological station,
but there had never been a volume that explained to non-scientists
what we do.
A GOOD READ
A primary goal of the work was to make the reading accessible to those
with limited scientific backgrounds. In the back of our minds it was
to be a kind of field guide, says co-editor Hogg. In addition, while
he admits each chapter could be turned into a complete field guide of
The book is like 21 field trips you would take with people who know
something about their subject matter, Nadlehoffer says.
So what have scientists and other observers learned over a century of
research on Douglass Lake and the surrounding vicinity?
Because human life-spans are relatively short, its hard to sense
change, so people who are new to the north often dont appreciate the
landscape that is recovering from a major disturbance, Nadlehoffer
says, referring to the clear cutting that was common at the end of the
Theres really nothing pristine about it, he says of the northern
environment, even in remote Emmet County, where development has been
less aggressive than in more urban areas. Even so, the development of
the lakeshore is another interest of the scientists. The biological
station is an incredibly valuable resource for studying the interface
of land and water, says Nadlehoffer.
You can see what happens when you dont have cottage development
versus the places that have been developed, Hogg adds.
The biological station sits on approximately 10,000 acres in northeast
Emmet County, between Petoskey and Cheboygan. Each year students from
the University of Michigan and elsewhere gather to do field work and
research. The work is conducted in the woods, along Douglass Lake,
and in the nearby Maple River. The biological station also owns more
than 3,000 acres on Sugar Island just outside Sault Ste Marie.
In mid-summer, the camp is home to more than 250 people, representing
every group from undergraduate students through post-doctoral fellows
and professors, as well as visiting faculty from a variety of other
On a typical day recently, Guy Meadows, professor of engineering at
the University of Michigan, was working along the shore with his team
of researchers on their flying fish, a robotically controlled
airplane with a wingspan of approximately eight feet that serves as a
weather buoy when it lands on water.
The goal is to build an ocean monitoring buoy that can persist a long
time without human intervention, Meadows says. The plane, with
monitoring equipment on board, is solar powered, and can withstand two
cloudy days, Meadows says. The goal is for the plane to absorb
enough energy in the daytime to operate at night.
On this day, under dark clouds, the plane took off quickly, droned
overhead, then splashed into the choppy waters 200 yards off shore.
Dubbed a robotic pelican, Meadows says the group wants the plane to
autonomously land, then like a pelican, pop up and autonomously fly.
The researchers, who have been working on the project for more than
two years, have obtained clearance from the Federal Aviation
Administration so the plane can fly in watch circles, on Douglass
Lake as well as Grand Traverse Bay.
Across the narrow gravel road from Meadows and his group, Dr. Scott
Heron from Ferris State University, and his assistant Matt Pierle were
conducting a class in ethno botany in one of the camps rustic
classroom buildings. Their students worked on constructing small
containers out of birch bark and sweet grass, as well as using a
variety of plants to create natural dyes. Our students learn to
sustainably interact with the landscape, Heron says. They learn
field skills as well as cultural skills.
Throughout the summer, the biological station hosts a free lecture
series that is open to the public. This years topics range from
Parasites: A Users Guide, to How the Baltimore Oriole Helped Lead
Us Astray. The University of Michigan Biological Station is located
at 9133 Biological Rd, Pellston, MI. A full list of events and
contact information can be found at www.lsa.umich.edu/umbs/