Faculty Research Areas

student faculty collaborative research

Listed on this page are short descriptions of some of the research areas studied by Luther biology faculty. Students interested in becoming involved in one of these areas of research should contact the faculty member directly. 

Evolutionary Plant Ecology & Genetics - Dr. Baack and his collaborators work on multiple projects examining aspects of plant evolution and ecology, including gene flow between crops and their wild relatives in sunflowers, the evolutionary origins of the crop sunflower, the effect of nuclear-cytoplasmic interactions on hybridization and species barriers, genome doubling and the origin of plant species, genome size evolution, and the evolutionary response of native species to invasive species.

Pulmonary Physiology - Dr. Eichinger and student collaborators are exploring factors which regulate blood flow through the lungs following exercise or high altitude exposure.

Endocrinology - A second area of research by Dr. Eichinger and students examines the hormonal responses to short and long-term exercise in human subjects.

Investigating surface colonization by bacteria - Dr. Enos-Berlage is interested in how bacteria colonize surfaces and use the marine bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus as a model system. V. parahaemolyticus actively colonizes and spreads over solid surfaces and forms tremendous biofilms. Dr. Enos is interested in the mechanisms this organism uses to attach to surfaces and develop into complex, surface-attached communities. In particular, she is interested in the gene products that are involved in these processes and their regulation. Current work involves the use of genetic, molecular, and microscopy techniques.

Investigating the effect of calcium levels on bacterial physiology - Very little information is known about the role of calcium in bacteria. Observations of the bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus suggest that calcium levels affect various aspects of bacterial physiology. Dr. Enos-Berlage is interested in determining the bacterial processes that are affected by altered calcium levels and how bacteria sense and respond to changes in calcium concentration. Genetic and molecular approaches are being used to address these questions.

Insect Biodiversity and Conservation - Dr. Larsen is working with students to study the effect of plant community structure and diversity on insect abundance and species richness, looking particularly at butterflies, native bees, moths, and ground beetles primarily in remnant and planted tallgrass prairies and other native habitats of northeast Iowa. Our main research question is "How does habitat type and habitat management affect insect biodiversity in northeast Iowa native ecosystems?" 

Vegetation and fire history on a sand plain in northern Wisconsin - Through the analysis of charcoal and pollen grains in lake sediments, Dr. Lynch and her students are compiling records of vegetation change and forest fire history that will help her understand how pine and oak ecosystems have responded to climate changes over the past several thousand years. With this information, scientists and land use managers will be better able to anticipate how rare sand plain ecosystems will respond to future climate changes.

Population dynamics of Leather wood (Dirca palustris) - Leather wood is a slow-growing shrub that occurs only in high-quality forests on north-facing slopes in northeastern Iowa. Extraordinarily high population densities of white-tailed deer, non-native plants, and climate change all threaten the long-term survival of this plant. Long-term monitoring of leather wood populations in the Decorah area will allow Dr. Lynch to track changes that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Plant Communities of Northeast Iowa - The Palezoic Plateau of northeastern Iowa is a place of surprising biodiversity. The rugged hillsides were difficult to clear for farming, so they still support hardwood forests, goat prairies, and rare cliff habitats. Cold water seeps create small wetlands, home to several rare plant species. Students interested in spending a summer at Luther can find plenty of opportunities for plant ecology research projects with Dr. Lynch.