Elizabeth Lynch

Elizabeth Lynch portrait
Associate Professor of Biology

Office: Sampson Hoffland Lab 190F

Phone: 563-387-1248

Email: lynchbet@luther.edu


Education: Ph.D., Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota; B.S., Biology, Trent University

Beth Lynch joined the Biology Department in 2001. She regularly teaches courses in Botany, Ecology, and the introductory biology course, Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity. During J-term, she enjoys teaching Winter Biology in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota. In addition to these regular course offerings, Lynch regularly teaches informal directed readings courses and works with students on collaborative research projects.

Her research in plant ecology focuses on the paleoecology of fire-dominated ecosystems and on the conservation of native plant communities in northeastern Iowa.

As the 2017-2019 Research Fellow in the Center for Ethics and Public Engagement at Luther College, she studied the links between human-caused environmental changes and the rapid emergence of zoonoses (diseases of humans with an animal host) and is using this background in teaching students with diverse interests in biology to understand the connections among human health, environmental stewardship, and social justice.

Lynch serves on the Board of Directors for Seed Savers Exchange and is engaged in land stewardship projects at Luther College and on public and privates lands in northeast Iowa.

Principles of Biology: Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity: BIO-151
An exploration of the diversity of life, its origins, and interactions among organisms and their environment. We introduce key concepts in evolution and ecology, provide an overview of the features of major taxonomic groups and their evolutionary relationships, and explore some of the practical and ethical implications of biodiversity. Through laboratory and field investigations, students develop their ability to make observations, analyze data, read primary literature, and communicate results. Designed as an introduction to biology; required for the biology major and minor.

Botany: BIO-252
A study of the anatomy, physiology, and evolution of the major groups of plants with an emphasis on field identification of seed plants. Students interested  in developing field biology skills should take this course during their sophomore or junior year. Lectures and laboratory. Laboratory includes field trips that require hiking.

Ecology: BIO-365
A study of the complex patterns and processes in the natural world. We examine questions about the distribution and abundance of species and communities, the transfer of matter and energy in ecosystems, and how these relate to biodiversity. Lectures and laboratory. Laboratory includes field trips requiring hiking and directed research projects.

Winter Biology: BIO-149/249
We will study the natural history of the southern boreal forest ecosystem in northern Minnesota, including the physiological and behavioral adaptations of organisms to extreme cold. Course activities will include skiing and/or snowshoeing excursions to remote natural areas, assigned readings, observations of natural history, and participation in biology research projects. (Biology 249: Biology majors will be responsible for reading and presenting journal articles and conducting a scientific research project.) We will be based at Wilderness Canoe Base and Menogyn YMCA camps at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. An eagerness to contribute to the larger group is essential, as participants will live in primitive cabins and will participate in daily chores of communal living.

The Impacts of Mining and Tourism on Indigenous Peoples and the Environment of Northern Chile: PAID-450
The course will take place in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, where for millennia people have made a living in a remote and extremely arid environment. We will examine how mining and tourism have affected the physical and biotic environment of the region, and how these environmental changes impact the livelihoods of indigenous peoples. Through readings, site visits, and data analysis, students will be asked to observe and document the ways in which these industries affect the social, political, and economic conditions of the Atacameño people.

Directed Readings: BIO-375

Directed Research: BIO-389

Senior Honors Project: BIO-493

Past Courses Taught:
Food and Environment: PAID-450
Environmental Conservation: SCI-330

  • Ph.D. Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota
    Minor: Quaternary Paleoecology
  • B.Sc. Honors. Biology, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario

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.

Savannah Wilson (‘19) studied the flora of Finch Memorial Hardwoods, part of the Driftless Area National Wildlife Preserve.

Anna Burke (’15) studied forest seeps in Winneshiek County. She completed vascular plant surveys, water quality, testing, and searched for rare Baltimore checkerspot butterflies which use a rare wetland plant for their reproduction. Her work was funded by a grant from the Iowa Science Foundation. The results of her work appear in our paper published in the Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science.

Brian Kurtz (’15) worked on the documenting the rich plant diversity of Malanaphy Springs State Preserve. He collected hundreds of vascular plant specimens for accession into the Luther College Herbarium, and initiated the first ever inventory of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) in the preserve. His work was funded by a grant from the Iowa Science Foundation and the Dean’s Office.

Shane Steele (’12) spent the summer of 2010 conducting plant surveys in small forested wetlands in the area around Decorah for his senior project. His work was funded by a grant from the Dean’s Office.

Eric Sievers (’11) conducted research on the pattern of herbivory by the moth, Leucanthiza dircella, on leatherwood (Dirca palustris) at Twin Springs Park in Decorah. Eric also assisted with conducting plant surveys on an algific talus slope located on the Luther College campus.

Stephanie Tomscha (’07) entered data from the original Public Land Survey in Allamakee and Winneshiek counties into a database, allowing us to make maps of the mid-19th century distribution of tree species across the landscape.

Fire and Vegetation History of the Northwest Wisconsin Sand Plain

In this project we seek to better understand the interactions among climate, vegetation, and fire in the “pine barrens” of northwestern Wisconsin. We use pollen and charcoal preserved in lake sediments to reconstruct fire and vegetation history over thousands of years. Knowledge of the behavior of fire and vegetation under past climates may help establish guidelines for restoration and conservation of pine barren ecosystems.

This research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research to Luther College and has been conducted in collaboration with researchers and students from the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Luther student projects

Katie Storey (’15) received a grant from the Dean’s Office to engage in a summer research project. She seeks to reconstruct early-Holocene paleoenvironments near Metzger Lake using charcoal, pollen, and fungal spores contained in lake sediments ranging from 13.000 to 6,000 years old. The results formed the basis for her senior thesis.

Madeline Kofoed (’14) received a grant from the McElroy Foundation for her project, The impact of Mid-Holocene climate on fire regimes on a sand plain in northern Wisconsin.

Shelby Eaton (’13) and Shaun O’Neill (’12) continued work on the analysis of an 8,000 year long fire history record from Metzger Lake, WI.

Jimmy Marty (’12) and Chris Nevala-Plageman (’11) presented the results of their senior thesis projects at the American Quaternary Association Biennial Meeting in Duluth, MN. The title of their presentation was Holocene climate history of northwestern Wisconsin reconstructed from lake level changes.

Jimmy Marty (’12) completed his senior research project, The plant macrofossil record of lake level changes at Cheney Lake in the northwestern Wisconsin sand plain. He presented this work at the Midstates Consortium for Math and Science Conference (Washington University, St. Louis, MO) and the St.Croix Research Rendezvous (St. Croix, MN).

This year Chris Nevala-Plagemann (’11) completed a senior honors project, A late- Holocene history of fire and drought at Cheney Lake: has local climate affected fire regimes in northwestern Wisconsin? He presented his research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Ithaca, NY, and at the annual spring research symposium at Luther College. He was also accepted into the medical school at the University of Minnesota to begin his training in the fall of 2012.

Jimmy Marty (’12) joined the lab and began helping with the analysis of the Metzger Lake sediment core. During the summer he began his own research project through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program in the Geology Department at the University of Minnesota. He presented results from this work at and the University of MN Summer Research Symposium and at the annual spring research symposium at Luther College.

Shelby Eaton (’13) continued learning the art of analyzing charcoal from lake sediments. She began the daunting work of analyzing an 8,000 year-long fire history record from Metzger Lake, WI. Shaun O’Neill (’12) also began working on this long sediment core.