NIU Ph.D. student Shannon McCarragher wins prestigious geography fellowship for research

Award will aid in study of invasive species at Nachusa Grasslands

Shannon McCarragher

Shannon McCarragher

The Society of Woman Geographers has selected Shannon McCarragher, a Ph.D. student in geography at Northern Illinois University, as a Pruitt National Fellow.

The international society encourages geographical research and supports fellowship programs that provide aid to outstanding women graduate students in geography and its allied fields. McCarragher’s fellowship will provide her with $11,000 in support for research related to her dissertation.

“The NIU Department of Geography is very proud of Shannon for winning the highly competitive Pruitt Fellowship,” said Andrew Krmenec, geography chair. “The award speaks to the quality and importance of her research, and to the quality of the research done throughout the geography department at NIU.”

McCarragher’s research examines how the invasive Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) shrub spread to Nachusa Grasslands, a 3,100-acre natural prairie preserve south of Oregon, Ill. She also is studying the impact that the shrub is having on the local population of white oak trees.

The fellowship funding will allow her to buy needed equipment, hire NIU undergraduates to assist with data collection and analyze soil samples.

“I’m looking at an area of the preserve that, in its natural state, is an oak savanna,” said McCarragher, a native of Milwaukee who now lives in Sycamore.

Photo of a green oak leaf amid autumn leaves“However, people have observed that there are very few white oak saplings and seedlings, and I want to determine the extent to which the invasive honeysuckle shrub is the problem,” she added.

“The dense honeysuckle alters the light environment by shading the understory, and consequently white oak seedlings aren’t able to get enough sunlight to transition to the next phase in their life cycles. The shrubs may also affect the soil quality, including the amount of moisture it holds and nutrients it retains.”

McCarragher uses light sensors placed above and below the honeysuckle canopy to gather data. She also employs equipment that assesses the photosynthetic efficiency of the white oak seedlings.

“Ultimately, I hope my research will result in strategies that can be used by the preserve to help stimulate white oak regeneration and manage against honeysuckle,” she said.

McCarragher will continue her research over the next two summers. She plans to earn her Ph.D. in geography in May 2015 and hopes to work in the future as a professor.

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