Former mines find new life as homes for birds and amphibians, according to research by PSU grad students

Click this link for the Sperry-Galligar’s FB page

or click this link for the SGA’s website

Also, this Sunday, 5/1/2022, at 5 pm on “KRPS Present’s…” we’ll bring you the 22-minute version of Emma and Luke’s conversation.

Emma and Luke’s interview which aired on KRPS’s Morning Edition 04/27/2022
Emma and Luke’s KPRS Presents interview
Gray Treefrog Complex Credit: Emma Buckardt

Whether you see them or not, mines dot the landscape of the Four States regardless if you reside in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, or Oklahoma. Some mining areas are well known, like the EPA Superfund site in Picher, Oklahoma, the heart of the former Tri-State mining district that operated for more than 100-years starting in the 1850s.

There is also King Jack Park in Webb City, Missouri. If you drove past the sprawling location today, perhaps your only inclination that there was a mining operation on-site for decades is the statue of a kneeling miner at the main entrance.

The 144-acre park, an EPA Superfund site, was filled in 2013. At its height in the late 1900s, Webb City and neighboring Carterville had about 700 mines, producing 23 million dollars worth of lead between 1894and 1904.

Eastern Newt Credit: Emma Buckardt

Decades after the mining that brought so much prominence and new residents to the Four States ended, the natural world continues to evolve and reclaim those old mines. Pittsburg State graduate students Emma Buckardt and Luke Headings are writing a new chapter of mining history in southeast Kansas, studying the bird and amphibian wildlife that inhabit them. According to Emma, she and Luke’s research is the first of its kind in southeast Kansas.

“Bird and amphibian research on these mind lands, as a baseline because we really don’t have much information prior to what our work is doing. They wanted us graduate to come out and look, and they were very open to where our interest lies and to go with the flow.”

Emma is speaking about her Pittsburg State graduate advisors Dr. Christine Brodsky and Dr. Andrew George, who interviewed and accepted Luke and Emma for the Biology department graduate programs.

MLWA Unit 6 Credit: Emma Buckardt

Besides their devotion to biology, Emma and Luke have something else in common. Their midwestern roots. Luke is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and Emma grew up in the suburbs outside of Chicago, Illinois.

Luke says that Dr. Brodsky and Dr. George have allowed him and Emma to create an organic project that will enable the team to dive deep into a project they are passionate about.

“Essentially, they let us create our own projects, and then we get to go to them and ask questions. And they have a much better understanding of study designs, they’ve been through them before, and they’ve run lots of research themselves, so they can guide us through the process and make sure that we’re not messing up our initial results.”

Boreal Chorus Frog Credit: Emma Buckardt

One of the joys of living in the Four States is spring. After a long and cold winter, it’s refreshing when snow and ice turn to sunshine as the temperature increases in March and into April. Training as a biologist at Pittsburg State and researching amphibians in mines throughout southeast Kansas is second nature for Emma.

“For me, I grew up in this realm of environmental education. My Mom is an environmental educator, and we so grew up outside. Playing outside, going birding. Every vacation was related to nature, and hiking and birding, and all things outdoors.”

Luke says that working on a graduate degree in biology is more than just finding a job.

Luke Headings out in the field

“I’ve always been drawn to this field in general. Just being outside makes me feel at home. And being able to learn more about what I see. And what goes on in ecology, and what goes on in wildlife in general, is really, really drawn to me.”

“One of the most appealing things is that we will never know everything about biology. And that’s such a draw. There’s always going to be new information for us to find. And even now, Emma just made a new discovery for the country that’s she’s found a new species that’s never been observed in this area. It’s just discoveries like that that are so appealing.”

On Thursday, April 28 at 7 pm at Yates Hall on the campus of Pittsburg State in Pittsburg, KS, at the monthly gathering of the Sperry-Galligar Audubon, Luke and Emma will present their findings on Bird and Amphibians on Kansas Mind Lands.

The exhibit dives deep into the wildlife of southeast Kansas that are reinhabiting these long-forgotten minds. The presentation is free and open to the public.

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