John Ball Zoo, GVSU partnerships help conserve at-risk species

John Ball Zoo has partnered with Grand Valley on several projects focusing on the conservation of at-risk species of animals.

Through multiple projects, the Zoo and GVSU work together to research and perform field work helping Eastern box turtles, freshwater mussels, Grand River Sturgeon and more.

Through a $25,000 summer research grant awarded to GVSU by the Zoo, the Zoo supported participation of five undergraduate students and one graduate student in field research. The students researched several topics, including fungal restoration, Arctic soil and wetland data collection, the Grand River ecosystem, forest health, the evolutionary ecology of Galapagos Lava Lizards and mapping tree species in Grand Haven to monitor disease prevalence.

“I am excited about this expansion of GVSU’s partnership with John Ball Zoo," said Jennifer Drake, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "We share a commitment to being good stewards of our environment through the conservation of species and habitats, and to offering undergraduate and graduate students hands-on research opportunities. Together, we are educating the next generation of scientists.”

A person, standing while holding a coffee cup, gestures while talking. Another person is in the background.
Peter D'Arienzo, CEO of John Ball Zoo, said during a recent presentation of the research that the health of wild places is important to the Zoo, which is why the Zoo is focused on sustainability efforts.

With more than $41,000 through other funding, John Ball Zoo is also supporting Eric Snyder, professor of biology, and a graduate student conducting the first comprehensive review of the freshwater mussel community in the Grand River in 20 years. Field work will be conducted in 2023 and 2024.

Along with GVSU and Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, John Ball Zoo is helping head start Eastern box turtles with $15,000 in funding. Headstarting is a conservation practice in which young animals are raised with human intervention and then released into the wild when they are less susceptible to predators. GVSU faculty members Jennifer Moore and Paul Keenlance, along with a graduate student, study the efficacy and ecology of head started turtles.

MORE: Find out details about this conservation project to assist Eastern box turtles in the Winter 2023 issue of Grand Valley Magazine , published in early December.

John Ball Zoo has raised and released 44 turtles throughout the last three seasons and has 12 turtles currently being head started.

With GVSU, the Grand Rapids Public Museum and Encompass LLC, John Ball Zoo is helping conserve Grand River Sturgeons through habitat mapping and visual encounter surveys through $1,500 in funding. This is the fourth year the Zoo has helped conduct surveys, which look for juvenile Sturgeon. This year, three juvenile Sturgeons and one adult were documented, and two of the juvenile sturgeons were captured, genetically sampled, marked and released.

“John Ball Zoo is thankful for our multiple partnerships with Grand Valley State University, which help the conservation of species and habitats locally and across the world,” said Bill Flanagan, conservation manager at John Ball Zoo. “Funding for these grants comes from Zoo visits and memberships, so our community should know they are helping contribute to the conservation of wildlife and wild spaces. We look forward to continuing our partnerships with GVSU for years to come.”

People sitting at tables watch a presentation.
Students studying either biology or natural resources management worked on all of the presented projects under the guidance of faculty members from the Biology Department.

Recent presentations highlighted research done through GVSU/John Ball Zoo partnership

A person looks up while holding a clicker for a presentation.
Jake Stuck (mentored by Priscilla Nyamai and Jennifer Winther) did a presentation on the survey of the fungal richness, diversity, and mycorrhizal associations in treated vs untreated sites in a degraded oak system in West Michigan.
A person speaks with hands folded before them.
Jerra Woznick (mentored by Chelsea Duball) discussed an Arctic soils field experience in Alaska that included the studying of permafrost.
Two people stand while posing for a photo. They are smiling.
Lorenne Gilbert and Taylor Suttorp (mentored by Eric Snyder) did a talk about sampling fish and plant species along a Grand River tributary to monitor water ecology health.
A person gestures by raising a hand holding a presentation clicker while looking at the screen.
Natalie Parks (mentored by Gary Greer) explained the work of GIS Mapping of the GVSU Ravines Plot as part of work studying tree allometry as a driver of forest structure and subsequent health.
A person points toward a screen that has images of two lizards with the words "vs" between them. The words at the top say, "Methods: Competition."
Emilio Mancero (mentored by Jennifer Moore), presented on the evolutionary ecology of Galapagos lava lizards in fragile island ecosystems.
A room full of people sitting at tables looks at a screen while someone is presenting.
Cody Krause, who was mentored by Ali Locher, did research mapping tree species in Grand Haven to help protect the urban forest from oak wilt, beech bark disease and hemlock woolly adelgid. Locher did the presentation in Krause's absence.

More on the research on the Galapagos lava lizards


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