Alumnus shares expertise in science labs, returns to his scholarly beginning
Evan Larson '02 interacts with students in an environmental science class at Willamette.
For a fisher, earthworms are bait.
For a forest, they can mean complete alteration of the forest floor environment, a loss of biodiversity and increased drought susceptibility.
“When we talk about the creatures that inhabit the world, some creatures have a disproportionate impact,” says Evan Larson ’02, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “These ecosystem engineers literally engineer the environment in which they live.”
As a specialist in dendrochronology, Larson analyzed tree rings to determine when the earthworms arrived at sites in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.
On Feb. 26, Larson shared his research with the Willamette community in a lecture titled, “Invasive Earthworms as Ecosystem Engineers: Using Tree Rings to Track Earthworm Impacts on Forests in the Great Lakes Region of North America.”
Stevie Gildehaus ’13 valued the opportunity to learn from Larson, who helped her with the research for her environmental science thesis.
“He’s been helping me with analysis, to determine what’s affecting our tree rings at Zena forest,” Gildehaus says. “Picking up the signals in the tree rings is really difficult, and it is fascinating to see how connected everything is.”
In addition to his innovative work tracking earthworm invasions, Larson runs a tree ring lab at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville — using tree rings to reconstruct past disturbances to forests, such as fire, climate change and human activity.
“My SCRP experience is absolutely why I am where I am right now,” Larson says. “The project that I was involved with laid the foundation for my career, it gave me the skills that I now use daily in my own research program and it connected me to the importance of research experience as an undergraduate student.
“Willamette is a wonderful place, so I’m glad I could come back and contribute to the culture that makes it great.”
Larson’s visit was sponsored by the Department of Environmental and Earth Sciences and an Atkinson research grant.