In 1990, a pair of Edwardsville citizens dedicated to the stewardship of nature lobbied the city to transform an abandoned sewage lagoon into a nature preserve. John and Kay Kendall provided seed funds to establish the preserve and whipped together community members and colleagues to donate time, money, labor and other efforts to the Watershed Nature Center. The Watershed is currently owned by the city of Edwardsville and managed by a non-profit board, the Nature Preserve Foundation. Thanks to the early commitment of the Kendalls, other community members, and the city, the Watershed has become a thriving nature center with healthy community engagement and a strong connection to SIUE.
The late John Kendall, professor emeritus of music at SIUE, is credited for bringing the first Suzuki program to SIUE and to the United States overall. The Kendalls’ passion for music was matched only by a commitment to conservation. The Kendall legacy initiated a long-term relationship between SIUE faculty members and students, who have volunteered by working on habitat restoration, giving workshops, writing grants, contributing to newsletters and serving on the Watershed Board.
Of course, the Watershed embodies the allure of a flourishing ecosystem for SIUE researchers. In recent years, professors such as Dr. Richard Brugam, distinguished research professor of biology, have used the Watershed to educate and to research with students. Under Brugam’s mentorship in 2013-14, students conducted year-long studies on the water quality of the Watershed ponds.
The Watershed ponds receive city storm water run-off, and the wetland ecosystem can actually help “clean” this water of pollutants. However, the run-off can also affect the Watershed’s overall health. Street run-off may contribute higher levels of nutrients, like phosphate, that lead to the blooming of algae and other microorganisms whose decay deplete water oxygen levels—an effect called eutrophy. Jessica Loethen worked with Brugam to examine the effects of phosphate pollution on the ponds. Tests conducted by Loethen and Brugam indicated high phosphate levels, suggesting that run-off created a eutrophic environment.
In a further study about the impact of runoff, Amanda Deardeuff worked with Brugam to study the ponds’ levels of zooplankton, tiny microorganisms that are an important base in the food chain. The species composition of zooplankton can indicate pond health, as they are affected by pollution and fish predation. After measuring zooplankton samples, Deardeuff and Brugam discovered a large number of Rotifer species, suggesting strong fish predation. The strength of the Rotifer species shows that many types of fish, from the smallest to the largest, live in the ponds. These could then support other animal species, such as heron and otters. Considering these indicators, the team determined that the run-off had minimal impact on the pond’s species diversity.
These and other collaborative research projects represent a simple cross-section in the nearly 25 years of interaction between SIUE and the Watershed Nature Center. Commitment by the community to build a natural sanctuary has thus led to an enriched setting for nature-lovers and an opportunity to further our knowledge about watersheds in general.