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Researchers in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve
Scientific and scholarly research has been going on in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve for many decades, and we encourage such work by any member of the UW-Madison community—students, staff, or faculty—who wishes to do serious studies of the ecosystems here.
Unlike the UW Arboretum, though, which was originally established primarily as an outdoor laboratory for ecological research, the Preserve has always had a more diverse and complicated mission. Because it is so close to the classrooms, offices, laboratories, and residence halls of the main campus, it is visited by hundreds of people every day of the year. It is far more integrated into the life of the campus than any other natural area owned by the university.
The Preserve is thus an ideal place to study not just natural systems in their own right, but the complex ways in which human beings, their activities, and their built environments interact with natural ecosystems and the plants and animals that live within them. Its proximity to campus makes it an ideal place for students—undergrads and grads alike—to conduct field research.
Much of the most interesting research in the Preserve has focused on the challenges of managing the impacts that result from these close interactions between human and natural systems. The restoration of the Class of 1918 Marsh is an example of reversing a drastic human alteration of a natural wetland that had occurred half a century before. The creation of Biocore Prairie has sought to restore vegetational processes and species that had been radically reduced by more than a century of agricultural land use. Much of the stewardship work that goes on in the Preserve is pursued in ways that support research, but effective management and restoration have been the primary goals.
As this website and interactive map demonstrate, there are also important cultural landscapes in the Preserve. The earliest of these are ancient archaeological sites and mounds dating back hundreds and thousands of years. But there are also fascinating historical landscapes dating to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and these have received less research than they deserve.
Furthermore, the Preserve presents an ideal opportunity for social scientists and humanists to investigate the attitudes and practices of modern human beings in a natural area entirely contained within the boundaries of a university campus and a major city. It can be a model for how urban ecosystems can be managed and sustained even in areas otherwise dominated by large populations of human beings.
We have barely scratched the surface of research that can be done here.
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