The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

June 29, 2013

Sage ecological wisdom From the Sagebrush

Aspiring biologist took an MSU class project and ran with it

Sagebrush isn’t the sexiest of plants, and may not be the sexiest of anything.

But for a former Minnesota State University student who went the extra yard with it, that humble growth has gained him and the school’s biology department a bit of academic limelight.

Michael Dyslin, who graduated in 2012, parlayed his findings on the Wyoming Big Sagebrush into appearances at prestigious undergraduate research conferences and co-authorship of an article in a professional peer-reviewed journal.

His former biology instructor Christopher Ruhland said an undergrad student receiving authorship on such a work is very rare, but in Dyslin’s case it was well-deserved.

“What Mike did was to go above and beyond in explaining why we found a relationship between ultraviolet levels in plants and their elevations.”

Moreover, Dyslin then took those findings he and fellow students gathered and effectively presented them in written form.

“Communication, gosh, that’s half the battle,” Ruhland said. “Effective communication skills is of paramount importance.”

For his part, Dyslin said research is wasted time if data and findings can’t be effectively communicated. And, he said, that communication becomes even more difficult when research findings must be condensed into summary form for conference attendees, a writing task he called “the No. 1 hardest thing — having to put it into a nutshell for countless numbers of people.”

By way of nutshelling the back story, the Rochester native and fellow upper-level biology students ventured out West two summers ago as part of a real-world learning Advanced Field Ecology class taught by Ruhland and MSU colleague John Krenz.

The class gathered data on how the sagebrush plants dealt with increased levels of ultraviolet radiation along differing elevation levels in Yellowstone National Park.

“We weren’t doing something Albert Einstein would do in finding a new equation; we weren’t doing something that hadn’t already been studied,” Dyslin said.

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