Luther College student researches invasive species

September 4, 2017

Invasive species have the ability to spread to a degree that can cause damage to the environment, economy and human health, among other things. Shelja Thakur, Luther College senior of Satiwala, Himachal Pradesh, India, saw the first-hand effects of these invasive species during her summer research project when she participated in land stewardship projects on Luther’s natural areas to remove plants such as European buckthorn and garlic mustard.

Thakur, the daughter of Pushpa Devi and Rakesh Kumar, of Satiwala, is a 2014 graduate of Red Cross Nordic, United World College, Norway. She is majoring in environmental studies at Luther.

Thakur chose to study animals that live hidden from sight, buried in leaf litter and soils. Her study organisms, non-native earthworms, additionally benefit from a reputation as “enrichers of garden soils.” Thakur spent the first part of her summer reading the scientific literature that documented the negative effects earthworms have on forests. From there, she designed her research project and collected and analyzed data from forests on Luther’s natural areas that surround campus. She specifically asked the question, “How do invasive earthworms affect our natural areas and do they interact with other non-native species, such as European buckthorn?”

“This research experience will be a very important part of my Luther experience. There are many things that you learn in class, but research opportunities like this one further improve your learning and provide the chance to explore and learn things at a deeper level. I am very thankful that I got the chance to do this at Luther and this research experience will be helpful in my future projects,” said Thakur.

Thakur worked with Molly McNicoll, Luther assistant professor of biology and natural areas land manager, on her project, which was funded through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Her research built on experiences she had in previous classes at Luther, such as researching background material, distilling difficult scientific papers and applying knowledge to a new system.

Luther’s Student-Faculty Summer Research projects provide students an opportunity to research topics of interest alongside Luther faculty. This program is one of a wide selection of experiential learning opportunities at Luther intended to deepen the learning process and that are part of Luther’s academic core.

The results of the project will be presented at Luther’s Student Research Symposium in 2018.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,000, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college’s website: