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McPherson College Natural Science Professor Receives State Grant To Study Sand Prairie Spiders

posted Dec 12, 2012 in ACADEMICS

Dr. Dustin Wilgers, assistant professor of biology at McPherson College, has received a Chickadee Checkoff grant for $4,950 to study a frequently overlooked member of Kansas ecology - the spider.

The grant from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism will allow Dr. Wilgers to study the numbers and behavior of burrowing spiders living in areas of sand prairie habitat in Kansas, in particular a complete survey of Sand Hills State Park - more than 1,100 acres of land located north of Hutchinson, Kan.

Dr. Wilgers said that for non-game species in Kansas, population surveys are limited and outdated. Spiders are important in Kansas ecology as key predators of many invertebrates and, therefore, as a natural control on agricultural pests.

“How can we keep common species common while simultaneously protecting rarer species when we don’t even know what species we have in many parts of the state, what habitats these species are found in, and how many we have of each species we have,” Dr. Wilgers said in his application for the grant.

In the two-year study, Dr. Wilgers will have the help of two MC students and will sample spider populations while making notes on habitat and recording GPS locations of each spider collected - both during the daytime and at nighttime. He will also be able to study the behavior of burrowing spiders in a sand prairie environment and compare how managed burning of prairie land may influence that behavior.

The grant will help to pay for student worker wages, a microscope, traps, nets, headlamps, night-vision goggles, and specimen collection and preservation materials. The grant was matched with funds from McPherson College and Dr. Wilgers’ personal funds. Dr. Wilgers will also pay his travel expenses.

Since coming to MC in 2011, Dr. Wilgers has also received a grant to purchase eight new environmental sensors - used to measure elements of water chemistry, carbon dioxide levels, moisture and more. In July 2012, he was named as one of four “Engaged Faculty Fellows” by Kansas Campus Compact and received a grant to integrate service learning projects into all three environmental courses he teaches at MC.

Dr. Kent Eaton, provost, said that MC was proud of this accomplishment and that Dr. Wilgers does a fantastic job of involving MC students in his field research.

“He represents a strong movement at the college to embrace all possible forms of experiential and service learning,” Dr. Eaton said. “We know without a doubt that some of the most significant student learning takes place outside of the classroom and the lab.”

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