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Duluth Conference and Carlos Avery Workshop on Oak Wilt


Our education and training program on Risk Analysis for Introduced Species and Genotypes links research to applications of ecological risk analysis. Much of the curriculum gives students foundational knowledge and skills in risk analysis. In a particularly unique 15-week course, which we call a “problem solving practicum,” students applied their knowledge to a dilemma faced by our external partners: the social, economic and biology challenges of managing oak wilt, a tree disease caused by an exotic invasive pathogen. Students worked with faculty and external partners to identify researchable questions to help resolve these real-world challenges. Faculty members ensured an integration of ideas from the social and natural sciences.

Risk Analysis for Introduced Species and Genotypes IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) Trainees who participated in the Spring 2008 problem solving practicum continued to reap educational and professional benefits in this reporting period from their integrated research on oak wilt. Student research focused on the economic impact of oak wilt and technical, sociological, and policy barriers to effective oak wilt management. A comprehensive summary of their findings was published electronically ( OakWiltReportOct08.pdf) and at least one manuscript is in the early stages of peer review for a journal publication. One student team has expanded its collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and acquired three years of additional data to strengthen their analysis of the efficacy of oak wilt treatment options. Students were invited to speak about their IGERT-sponsored research in a mini-symposium organized by IGERT faculty-member Rob Venette at the 2008 Minnesota Invasive Species Conference (MNISC) in Duluth, MN on Oct. 28, 2008. Six Trainees presented their findings to a diverse audience of more than 80 natural resource managers, educators, researchers, and students. Because of the high quality of the research and presentations, the IGERT Trainees subsequently were invited by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to speak at a professional workshop co-organized by IGERT faculty Rob Venette and Kristen Nelson for oak wilt managers on March 12, 2009. Students shared research results with key managers, city foresters, and municipal staff from several communities within the Twin Cities metropolitan area who make policy, programmatic, or tactical decisions regarding oak wilt management. Initial feedback indicated that these professionals valued the unique information and perspectives that the Trainees offered from their multidisciplinary research.

The NSF-funded University of Minnesota Risk Analysis for Introduced Species and Genotypes IGERT comprises a diverse group of faculty and external partners led by Ray Newman, David Andow, Susan Galatowitsch, Anne Kapuscinski and Ruth Shaw.

Address Goals

Continuing Trainee work on oak wilt has expanded from research to now encompass collaboration and cooperation with and education of our external partners as well as the broader management and civic communities. Our Trainees are rapidly becoming world-class, broadly inclusive scientists and their work is expanding the scientific literacy of the greater community. In this last reporting year, Trainees made noteworthy progress from operating solely as students to working and interacting with the scientific community as peers.

Research by Trainees on so many economics, ecology, sociology and policy aspects of oak wilt demonstrated Trainee integration of the multidisciplinary nature of our program’s research priorities. The fact that Trainees were invited twice by cooperating management and policy groups to present their research findings as one cohesive unit indicates the high applicability and value of their work and that student interaction with our external partners is influencing Trainee research and publication agendas. Trainee research on oak wilt emphasized areas of greatest opportunity and potential benefit because they identified and filled an important gap in the knowledge that existing research efforts were unable (or under-funded) to address.

Primarily, Trainees are learning as they develop their oak wilt efforts from research projects to publications and presentations, the enormous impact that their research efforts can have on management, policy and future research decisions. Finding their place in the research and management communities has helped them to draw connections between the scientific questions they ask and the world they seek to affect.

Secondarily, the oak wilt project has provided an opportunity for our Trainees to shine as research leaders and problem-solvers in the study of emerging invasive species pests and management to slow their dispersal.