Professor plants seeds in the wilderness and within his students

As a conservation ecologist and the principal investigator and co-founder of the WKU Green River Preserve, Dr. Albert J. Meier is well-versed in overseeing growth and development in an ecological environment as well as in the minds of his students.  He considers himself a gardener nurturing delicate organisms and ideas and helping them grow.  “Self-replication is key for seeds, but with students, ideas can go around the world in a day. As they change, modify, and go through reiterations they also spawn new ideas and thus new seeds are planted,” Dr. Meier says.

Witnessing species that no longer exist on earth

During Dr. Meier’s years of prolific study he has seen and examined organisms that no longer exist on earth.  In the 1980’s he saw the last stand of old growth sweet pecan trees along the Mississippi River.

In 1987, while studying in the U.S. Virgin Islands in Saint Croix, Green Cay, Dr. Meier was fortunate to rediscover an extremely rare species of lizard, Spondylurus magnacruzae.  He captured the skink, measured and photographed it, and released it back into the wild.  Below is his photo, the only known photograph of a living individual of this species and only the third sighting of the species since 1882.  To learn more about this study visit this link: http://www.caribbeanherpetology.org/pdfs/ch46.pdf

Dr. Meier took the only known photograph of Spondylurus magnacruzae, now considered probably extinct. Photo by Albert Meier.

 The WKU Green River Preserve

The WKU Green River Preserve (GRP) comprises over 1600 acres of land occupying both banks of the Green River in Hart County, Kentucky. The mission of the Preserve is to foster knowledge and protection of this highly diverse region and of our natural heritage through research, education, and conservation.  GRP is home to 12 federally endangered species in dire peril of extinction.

Preserve habitats include bottomlands, uplands, barrens, caves, limestone glades, and of course the river itself. The Green River and its tributaries are centers of biological diversity for freshwater mussels and fish, hosting over 150 fish species and 71 mussel species. GRP lands incorporate several mussel beds, including the locations of nine federally listed endangered mussels.

Dr. Meier has conducted extensive conservation ecology research at GRP focused on species sensitive to human disturbance.  If a particular species is slow to respond to elimination from a certain habitat and cannot recolonize, they may be more vulnerable to extinction. His studies are important because he is working on finding ways to help these species survive if they are removed or succumb to dramatic climate change.

Dr. Meier says “My research is important because it’s essential to find methods to keep species and habitats in good condition and assist in maintaining the wonders in our world.  We need to keep them in existence for our children to also study and enjoy.”

Pollinators

Dr. Meier conducted a study with several of his students to evaluate how pollination and seed dispersal affect the survival of certain species of wildflowers.  Some species have problems thriving because they are slow dispersers and therefore have low population growth.  Other species have fast population growth but are also slow dispersers—however, when their numbers increase they begin to disperse more rapidly.  Honeybees can deliver pollen even if the seeds are planted hundreds of yards away—a vital survival tool for certain species.

A teaching moment in the wild. Dr. Meier demonstrates techniques of dispersing seeds at the WKU Green River Preserve. Photo courtesy of John Andersland.

 

A honey bee pollinating a Phacelia. Photo courtesy of Robert Neidlinger.

 

Dr. Meier’s students dispersing seeds. Photo courtesy of John Andersland.

Notable work, recognition, and grants

In addition to numerous WKU faculty awards, student advisement awards, sustainability awards, and biological diversity protection awards, in 2013 Dr. Meier was appointed to the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund Board as Acquisitions Chair.  Under his leadership they have purchased and protected 10,040 acres of nature’s finest lands in Kentucky.

In 2017 he was appointed to the Advisory Board of Discover Life, a biodiversity website that receives approximately ½ million visitors per month, was conference organizer for the Save All Species Conference at WKU GRP and an invited participant at the Save All Species Conference at Harvard University, co-sponsored by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation Half Earth Project and Discover Life.  He was the only invited participant from a regional university.

In 2019 the Green River Preserve received the Kentucky Business Conservation Partner of the Year Award for “exemplary work in the management of private lands for fish and wildlife habitat” from the Kentucky Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

His reports and papers have been cited more than 300 times and he has procured more than 5 million dollars in grants and contracts from NSF, KSNPC, NPS/Mammoth Cave National Park, USDA/NRCS, KHLCF, USFW, and others.

 Mentored becomes mentor

Fifty years ago, as a 10-year-old, Albert Meier would often visit his father’s lab at LSU and wash the glassware for him.  At the time, one of his father’s graduate students, Blaine Ferrell, took him aside and explained the research he was currently conducting on birds and lizards. Blaine subsequently became a professor of biology at WKU, and when Albert joined the faculty Blaine was instrumental in mentoring him.

Dr. Meier has procured funding and mentored the publication of research papers by numerous students.   Two of his students have earned National Goldwater Scholarships and two have earned Boren Scholarships. Fifteen have received departmental or college awards, and 40 have authored or coauthored abstracts for conferences outside of WKU. Sixteen students have completed Honors and MS Theses, five with distinction.  Dr. Meier is proud and honored to pass on the celebrated WKU tradition of mentorship and to plant seeds of wonder for his students to disperse throughout their lives.

Two Blue Herons at the WKU Green River Preserve. Photo courtesy of Blaine Ferrell.

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