Research Project on Drained Carroll Lake Nets State Award
BY BRAD SAM
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or, if you are a scientist, study the effects of the lemons.
That was the mindset of Bethel University Professor of Biology Dr. James McAllister when extreme flash flooding rendered the spillway gate at Carroll Lake inoperable in the summer of 2014.
He seized on the rare ecological event by tapping Darya “Dasha” Klyuyenko, an Education graduate student and December 2013 Biology graduate, to conduct a research project as a graduate assistantship.
In an interview with The Banner, Dr. McAllister called the cataclysmic event “a rare opportunity to see incredibly fast growth from a blank slate” as the lake drained in a matter of days.
“Usually, [a body of water] will transition from wet to dry slowly, but this was rapid.”
With the permission of the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, which owns the lake, McAllister, Dasha and undergraduate student Noah Sinz collected data at the dry lake bed in the fall of 2016, looking at the biological succession of major plant species.
The team quickly found a focal point in a stand of black willow trees in the lake bed. They found that the pioneer species appeared and grew rapidly in the area where the water table was farther from ground level, but that differences in elevation had no significant effect on growth.
The species has many commercial uses, but is also used in habitat restoration as its massive root systems help reduce soil erosion.
McAllister noted that “in the future, others can integrate this data into a larger ecological picture” and that the project added useful ground-level data to the satellite images taken during the lake bed’s transition from wet to dry to wet again.
The project also paid academic dividends for Klyuyenko and Bethel. At the Student Poster Presentation during the Tennessee Academy of Science’s annual meeting at the University of Tennessee at Martin in November, the graduate student’s offering earned third place in Botany.
She told The Banner, “It was a great experience. If undergraduates can have projects like this, it’s so valuable when you get to graduate school. This was unlike any Biology class I ever had.”
Dr. McAllister said, “This was science by doing, a practical aspect where it really hits home,” adding, “I think she got an awful lot out of this because she put so much into it. She had done such a wonderful job pushing forward with it, the competition experience just reflected that. I was so pleased with the fruition of the project.”
Dasha said, “I’m happy to bring awareness to Bethel and the Biology Department. I hope it’s a path forward for other students to do the same.”
In a separate interview, Division Chair Dr. Joseph Sam said, “It’s an excellent example of the benefits of having a university in McKenzie. What looked like an unfortunate event created a wonderful research opportunity.”
The abstract for the project will be published in the Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science.
Dasha resides in Jackson, where she is employed as one of Jackson Country Club’s full-time tennis professionals.