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Research: Flat Iron Lake Preserve

Since 2007, Calvin students have conducted research at Flat Iron Lake Preserve.  These students spend the summer living at the preserve doing research under the direction of Dr. Randy Van Dragt and Dr. Dave Warners. Dr. Van Dragt's students have been studying the ecology of the lake, and Dr. Warners's students have been developing a floristic description of the terrestrial and shallow water systems of the preserve.

Calvin students interested in assisting with research should speak directly with the professor leading the investigation, and visit the Science Division's Summer Research page for more details.

Summer 2010 Research Projects:

  • Jake Zwart studied the fish and plankton communities in Flat Iron Lake and how they changed throughout the summer. He also investigated how physical changes (temperature and dissolved oxygen content at different depths in the water column) and weather affected these populations and created a bathymetric map of the lake.
  • Scott Jones's project was titled "Flower Phenology and Tree Inventory at Flat Iron Lake." He inventoried the trees on the property, kept a list of when plants started and stopped flowering, and pressed specimens that were unknown for later identification.

Summer 2009 Research Projects:

  • Jane Louwsma began an effort to describe the major links in the food web of the shallow water zone in an effort to understand the trophic links between the lake’s shallow-water and deep-water communities. 
  • Jessica Miller continued the botanical survey from 2008. Brent and Jessica’s collective efforts have produced high floristic quality indices (FQI’s) for the preserve. The FQI calculated by the end of the second summer’s work was 57 for the preserve as a whole, and 36.5 for Black Ash swamp (a small wooded wetland on which Jessica concentrated much of her effort). The FQI is a measure of the quality of biodiversity of a native plant community; in Michigan an FQI of greater than 35 is considered of statewide significance.

Summer 2008 Research Projects:

  • Travis Ellens developed a bathymetric map of Flat Iron Lake, and against that mapped the vegetational zones of the shallow water areas of the lake and their larger animal inhabitants. 
  • Brent Geurink conducted a broad botanical survey of the preserve including the plants of the shallow-water zones of the lake.

Burning the Prairie

Fire plays an important role in maintaining the prairie. Each year, approximately 1/3 of the prairie undergoes a prescribed, or controlled, burn. The burn keeps invasive plants such as thatch, weeds, and woody vegetation from crowding out native plant species. Without fire, these vast grassland plant communities would be overtaken by shrubs, and over time would turn into woodlands.

A prescribed burn rejuvenates open areas to create lush and healthy grasslands. After a burn, the blackened soil quickly absorbs sunlight, the warmed earth releases dormant seeds lying in the soil and encourages seed germination, charred plant remains become a rich fertilizer, and grasses sprout from their root systems deep below ground. The fire stimulates new growth, thereby improving the local wildlife's nesting habitat and food supply.

Above is a photo of the prairie in bloom after a prescribed burn.