Biology department acquires land

Senior Garrett Sevingy and junior Jacob Hoskins analyze the tree density. Photo courtesy of Randy Johnson.

By Justine Espersen

Biology students have always had the opportunity to do field exploration in nature reserves, but this year a new option has been added.

Last spring, Dr. Walter (Wally) Quanstrom donated more than 15 acres of property located in Big Rock, Ill. (west of Aurora) to ONU.

Quanstrom, who was BP Amoco’s Group Vice President, HSE, until his retirement in 2000, taught in the late 1960s and early 1970s at ONU and wanted to pass on his land to the school.

“He donated [the property] to the University, but Wally, who is a biologist, hoped [the Biology Department] would make use of it,” biology professor Dr. Leo Finkenbinder said.

ONU followed through with Quanstrom’s wish. Finkenbinder’s vertebrate classes, along with Dr. Randy Johnson’s ecology classes, have utilized it greatly.

“We have been using the property for field trips in a couple of our biology classes. We plan to continue to do that over the next couple of years,” Finkenbinder said.

The property, named Big Rock after the small rural community in which it is situated, consists of a forested area, two ponds, a creek, a house, a caretaker’s house and two large shed-like buildings that can be used for laboratories and/or maintenance storage.

If one of the shed-like buildings is converted into a laboratory, students in the ecology and vertebrate behavior studies classes will be able to utilize it for research studies without having to leave the site.

“It’s a great site because it has the possibility to establish set research without people tampering with the research. The only problem is the distance,” Johnson said.

The property is less than two hours from campus, which does not allow students to get to the property and do research during their three-hour lab sessions.

Despite the distance, Finkenbinder took his vertebrate behavior studies class to Big Rock last year, and Johnson took his ecology class to the site earlier this semester.

“We’re trying to involve different types of field experience for the students,” Finkenbinder said.

Field experience includes samplings of populations of birds and small animals. Students do this by setting up traps for the animals and freeing them after research is conducted.

It also includes the analysis of deer trails and plots analyzing density of trees.

“This property provides a new and different opportunity we haven’t had before,” Johnson said.

Other properties for field experience include: Kankakee State Park, Perry Farm, the South Lake Michigan Dunes, Indiana Dunes, Mskoda Prairie and Savanna (eastern Kankakee) and Midewin Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington, Ill.

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