Students present research results at international conference
Two Cornell College students took their research to a global audience this summer.
Camden Grundeman ’19 and Marin Dettweiler ’19 presented their research results on the declining Midwest monarch butterfly population at the 2017 International Congress for Conservation Biology in Cartagena, Colombia at the end of July.
Grundeman and Dettweiler have been working on this research project with Cornell College Professor of Biology Tammy Mildenstein. For more than a year, they’ve gathered information and analyzed data.
The group says their results were unexpected because there’s a widespread belief that monarch butterfly populations are limited by milkweed habitat in the Midwest. They anticipated finding milkweed plants full of monarchs.
“We found that although the milkweed plant is important, it is not a limiting factor, which means the butterflies are not fighting over the last few milkweeds,” Dettweiler said. “We also noticed a decrease in monarchs from the year before, which we think is from a cold front earlier that year which wiped out many of the monarchs.”
Grundeman points out that the study is still very young, and they have a lot to learn. He, however, finds it interesting that their results go against popular thought.
“This leads me to hypothesize that the problem is more complex, and there are a number of factors that are contributing to the decline of the monarch population,” Grundeman said.
More than 1,000 people from 74 different countries gathered to explore conservation science at the conference.
“The most exciting part of the conference, for me, was the fact that there were people from around the world all in one place with a common goal,” Grundeman said. “We were all there to help protect our natural world and all that reside in it. The diversity of everyone’s projects was amazing.”
The students used this opportunity to learn about other field-based projects and network with students and experts with similar passions.
“All of the sessions had something to do with conservation, which is what I want to do in the future. So, it was very exciting to see the broad range of things I could do with my dreams,” Dettweiler said.
Grundeman and Dettweiler presented their project to many well-known biologists associated with organizations such as the Society for Conservation Biology and the Last of the Wild program.
“I thought it was extremely valuable for the students to hear about concepts we have covered in my classes as they were applied to many of the world’s most threatened species and ecosystems,” Mildenstein said. “I think this conference was very eye-opening to all the opportunities there are in the world to be biologists working toward solutions to offset or mitigate problems humans are causing.”
Mildenstein hopes to continue bringing students to the conference with research results in the future.
Dettweiler said their trip was funded by Cornell’s Environmental Studies Program and Student Senate.