Mercer students monitor endangered plant

Mercer University Associate Professor Dr. Heather Bowman-Cutway and a group of research students have been monitoring and working on a project with endangered species in the Macon area. They are working with fringed campion, an endangered plant that is only found in two Florida counties and Macon, Ga.
“It’s only found here in Macon and a few places in Northern Florida,” said Carrie Stewart, a junior biology major. “It’s just this little shrubby plant that we go and measure and clear out its area so it will grow and make sure it is doing okay because it is endangered.”
Although the plant does not look like much at present, the research students have expressed how important the plant is for the environment and how it will continue to be important in the future.
“Right now, it’s not flowering so it’s just this little cluster of leaves called rosettes. It doesn’t look very special at all. It’s a very unassuming plant, but it is special,” said Stewart.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the fringed campion (Silene polypetala) was listed as an endangered species of plant on Jan. 18, 1991, where it has remained ever since. While a Technical Agency Draft Recovery Plan does exist for the plant, it was filed in October of 1996 and never moved past the beginning stages.
No conservation plans are listed for the plant either, perhaps making the small group of Mercer University students one of the only groups working to protect the life of this species.
In order to be a part of any research group at Mercer University, students must undergo a rigorous interview process with the professors in the biology department, who choose which students they would like to bring on board with their personal projects. Dr. Bowman-Cutway, or Dr. BC as her students affectionately call her, is currently working on two projects, both of which Stewart is involved in.
“We go out to the Ocmulgee and remove the invasive species, which, in our case, is honeysuckle [and] Japanese honeysuckle,” explained Stewart.
Despite the amount of effort that goes into both of these projects, students find that a certain level of enjoyment does come from them.
“This is the first time I’ve done research. I really like it because it’s outside, [and] we’re working, but it’s kind of relaxing in a weird way, and it’s good to get out and do something. It makes you feel like a real scientist,” Stewart said.
The research work Dr. Bowman-Cutway has headed up has made an impact on students, like Stewart, to the point where they are considering doing more research in the future.
“Because of working on this research with her, I’m kind of considering doing graduate research somewhere with something. I don’t know, I didn’t realize I liked research so much, but apparently I do,” said Stewart.
For more information on the fringed campion and wildlife conservation, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at http://ecos.fws.gov.