The fate and future of prairie restoration at EWU

Sarah Hill, Graduate Student, Department of Biology

“OH NO! WE’VE GOT APHIDS!!!” That was the text I sent to my project partner, Alison
Last Friday. Another surprise bestowed on us by the fates of the greenhouse. For the last few months, Alison and I have been raising plants that will go into the prairie reconstruction project at EWU next fall, and every few days we are greeted with new opportunities and challenges. Some days the fates are kind – these are the days when you find a new species has germinated and is ready for transplant, or when you notice the first few supple cotyledons poking out of the soil. Sometimes the fates surprise you by revealing that the Wooly Sunflower (Eryophyllum lanatum) seeds that you were cold stratifying in the fridge are starting to germinate a month earlier than expected, and they need to be planted ASAP! Other days you have aphids, grow lights that are too low, or venting fans that accidently got turned off, leading to some very hot little seedlings. The ancient Greeks believed that the Fates did not pre-determine the destiny of a person, but rather would intervene at critical points with decisions that would either be helpful or harmful to the person’s future. In a similar way, the greenhouse Fates are not determining the outcomes of our plant propagation – but they sure are providing us with opportunities to make critical decisions that will affect the survival of our seedlings!

The surrounding community is also getting a chance to shape the future of the prairie at
Eastern. The same day that we discovered the aphids, Alison and I had been at Cheney Middle School, starting a germination experiment with the 7th grade science students in Mrs. Hansen’s class. This day built on a session we had with the students in the fall where these students planted In total almost 500 Arrowleaved Balsamroot (Balsamhoriza sagitatta) and Fernleaved lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) plugs for the restoration. Students that day were excited to take part in this historic project; when learning about the significance of EWU’s restoration and one student exclaimed “WAIT! You mean Cheney is special and important?!” When we revisited the students, among grumblings about the classroom smelling like dirt, we overheard students hypothesizing what was happening to the seeds they planted in the fall. Underneath their nonchalant attitudes, they were keenly interested in the fate of their seedlings. Other partnerships with Cheney Parks and Rec, the West Valley School District, Tekoa School district, and the Spokane Salish school are also underway to build community wide prairie appreciation, and to raise plants for the restoration here at Eastern. In the fall community members will be invited to lend a hand in the first round of prairie planting and laying the foundations for the work yet to come. As the plants grow up alongside the community members, they will be able to take future generations out for a stroll among the hills, and recall their roles in building biodiversity in Cheney.

Raising prairie plants is an exercise in patience and humility. Plants do not necessary operate on timescales amenable to contemporary human schedules, and we are still learning the best way to put back the pieces of the prairie in this region. Having a large scale restoration project on campus at Eastern will be a boon to prairie restoration throughout the region. The research possibilities are endless, as is the amount of information this project can contribute to our understanding of prairie ecology and restoration techniques. My time at Eastern will have ended long before much of the restoration project has been completed, but I hold onto the vision of a functional prairie with a diverse array of grasses, wildflowers, and wildlife. Appreciating the slow march into the future makes the first unfurling of a true leaf thrilling, gives me the patience to squish thousands of aphids, and encourages me to embrace all the learning opportunities the fates send my way.

A Deep Dive into a Graduate Student’s Research Experience

Josh Chastek


josh in the lab

My name is Josh Chastek. I am a native Spokanite, science enthusiast, and outdoor adventurer. I enjoy backpacking, photography, orchids, and airplanes. I am also interested in genetics, microscopy, and cell culture. I completed my undergraduate degree at EWU and continued at EWU because I was not (and am not) done learning about biology.

My initial focus in biology was with cryobiology, the study of the effects freezing temperatures on living tissues. That interest brought me into contact with Dr. Charlie Herr, with whom I now work. The Herr lab focuses on the development of technologies for endangered species preservation. The kinds of research I’ve been able to participate in have transformed my interest in biology into a love of cell culture systems and technology development. During my time as a graduate student, I have worked on freezing fish sperm and insect embryos. I have also worked on culture system development for growth of reproductive organs in fish, cats, dogs, Drosophila (fruit flies), and silkworms.

One of the coolest aspects of working at a university is getting undergraduates involved in real world research. Some of our research includes:

  • The development of reproductive cell culture technologies.

We have worked on optimizing cell culture systems to grow tissues of plants, vertebrates, and invertebrates. Our insect research has included using honey bees, Drosophila species, and silkworms as models. Prior to my arrival, Dr. Herr had developed technology for the long-term storage of honey bee semen. This technology (combined with the ability to artificially inseminate honey bees) gives researchers the ability to bring in bee semen from around the world and produce hives with greater genetic diversity.

  • The development of cell culture systems for the storage of insect gametes and reproductive tissues.

This is an important issue because at this time there are no genetic storage techniques for many species of insects. Drosophila have been an important research model for the last century (Jennings 2011). Current and future drosophila research depends on the maintenance of many, some 40,000 plus, different fly strains. No reliable cryogenic methods have been developed to store gametes or embryos and all of these stocks must be maintained alive. There are large resource and time costs associated with maintaining these stocks. Our lab has been using what was learned from freezing honey bee sperm to develop methods for freezing Drosophila gametes and embryos.

josh blog image 3

Live/dead cell stain of drosophila embryo

  • The optimization of cell culture systems for growing insect reproductive organs to use for in vitro fertilization experiments.

silmoth portrait

Another insect model we work with in our lab is the silkworm, Bombyx mori. Silkworms are important for the luxury resource they provide as well as their role as research model. They are specialized feeders who only eat the leaves of mulberry trees and can no longer be found in the wild. Due to their extended time in domestication (over 5000 years) silkworms are extremely susceptible to pathogens and environmental irregularities. Technologies to store their genetics would be beneficial to the world’s silk producers and researchers. We have reason to believe that because of their unique mating style, silkworms may be a good insect model to attempt in vitro fertilization with. In order to successfully produce progeny, in vitro, mature eggs and sperm must be collected and mixed together in media that will support them. Silkworms mate directly after emerging as moths, if they can find a mate, suggesting that the male and female gametes are mature and ready for fertilizing after emerging from their cocoon. Mating moths will connect for 12-24 hours and during this time the male will use a peristaltic pumping action to mix his sperm with all of the females eggs. The moths will separate after the sperm transfer which is followed by the female depositing all of the fertilized eggs. This is different than other insects like Drosophila who use individual sperm to fertilize eggs as they are produced and matured over the insects lifespan. Using information gained from research using honey bees and drosophila, we have been working to develop a cell culture system that allows for the survival of silkworm gametes and reproductive tissues. Optimizing a media to mix the sperm and eggs in has been the main focus of our silkworm research.

In the fall of 2018 we established a silkworm colony here at EWU. The goals of building the colony were to learn how maintain a population of silkworms, and also to be able to provide silkworms at all stages of their life cycle to do research with. We were successful in raising and mating silkworms. Undergraduate researcher Rachael Doty helped establish and maintain the colony (thanks Rachael)!

We were not able to attempt any in vitro fertilization trials last year, but we were able to keep silkworm testicular tissue alive in one of two of our selected cell culture media. We are starting another colony this spring and will use what we learned from the previous experiments to attempt in vitro fertilization this quarter. Once we have optimized a system to allow for fertilization we would like to begin working on freezing the sperm, eggs, and fertilized embryos.

If you, like me, have a passion for research that hasn’t been sated by an undergraduate degree, you should consider continuing your education. Acquiring an MS will not only give you new tools and some teaching experience, but will allow you to dive deep into a research experience.

Works cited:

1).B. H. Jennings, Drosophila – a versatile model in biology & medicine, Mater. Today, 2011, 14, 190–195

2).Hopkins, Brandon and Herr, Charles.(2010). Factors affecting the successful cryopreservation of honey bee spermatozoa. Apidologie 41: 548-556.

3).Hopkins, Brandon & Cobey, Susan & Herr, Charles & Sheppard, Walter. (2016). Gel-coated tubes extend above-freezing storage of honey bee (Apis mellifera) semen to 439 days with production of fertilised offspring. Reproduction, fertility, and development.

4).Stucky M., Hopkins BK, Mr. C. (2008) Cryopreservation of honey bee spermatozoa,     Reprod. Fert. Dev. 20, 127-128.

5). Hopkins Brandon K., Herr Charles, Sheppard Walter S. (2012) Sequential generations of honey bee (Apis mellifera) queens produced using cryopreserved semen. Reproduction, Fertility and Development 24, 1079-1083.


EWU Professor and colleague name new lichen species after Oprah

Oprah Lichen #1Oprah’s sunshine lichen growing on tree bark. Photo: Jordan Hoffman

Jessica Allen, a professor at Eastern Washington University and her colleague, James Lendemer, from The New York Botanical Garden have named a newly discovered species in honor of Oprah Winfrey, the noted media mogul and philanthropist. Hypotrachyan oprah, commonly known as Oprah’s sunshine lichen, is found only in the southeastern United States, including near Ms. Winfrey’s hometown, Koscuisko, Mississippi. This is the first species to be named form Ms. Winfrey.

The new species is a lichen, a symbiotic organism formed by close cooperation between a fungus and an alga. Lichens grow on every continent across the globe where they help form soil, and serve as food and shelter for diverse animals. Large-scale air quality monitoring often relies on studying what lichens occur in an area as they are highly sensitive to air pollution.

Scientists know when they have found a new species because it doesn’t fit in the sets of characteristics that define any other species. In the case of Oprah’s sunshine lichen, the scientists knew it was unique based on its bright yellow glow when viewed under ultra-violet light along with is observable features.

The newly described species was published in the Castanea, the journal of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society and is available through subscription online, or by request from the authors.

Oprah Lichen #2

Oprah’s sunshine lichen glowing yellow under ultraviolet light. Photo: Jordan Hoffman

Looking to earn an MSc in Biology? Come join the EWU Biology graduate program!

If you have just earned a BSc in Biology, but did not gain any relevant experience outside of classes, it can be hard to find a job. Sure, if you’re planning on becoming a physician, a dentist, or decide to pursue many other health-related careers, your path is pretty clear forward. However, students who try to find a relevant job right out of college with a BSc degree in Biology often get frustrated. Internships and volunteering is a valuable experience, and sometimes lead to permanent jobs, but they can feel like a step back for some. Similarly, seasonal entry-level jobs can be a very useful first step, but do not offer the kind of job security that most college graduates hope to attain. Many full-time, permanent jobs, especially in the environmental fields, working for state and federal agencies, are open to apply for graduates with a BSc degree, but they often list having a MSc (Masters in Science) degree as a preferred qualification. And since more and more applicants do have a MSc degree, graduates with a BSc degree only are at a significant disadvantage when applying for such positions.

If the above paragraph resonates with you, and you have already contemplated obtaining an MSc degree to be more competitive for those permanent full-time Biology jobs, we at EWU Biology might be able to help you!


Wordcloud based on the title of EWU MSc thesis projects 1984-2018

The MSc program in Biology has been going on for more than 30 years, and has successfully graduated over 146 students. It is a two-year, research-based program, where graduate students work on an independent thesis research project, in collaboration with their major advisors, while also taking classes. Classes add up to at least 38 quarter credits over the 2 years, as well as at least 14 quarter credits of thesis work. Classes include 16 quarter credits of core classes, which include scientific and research methodology, grantsmanship, advanced biostatistics, as well as practicing developing both oral and poster presentations. In addition, graduate students have to take 6 quarter credits of graduate seminars to get familiar with the literature, and 16 quarter credits of graduate level electives. In terms of their research, graduate students work together closely with their major advisor to develop a novel research topic that is feasible to complete within the timeframe of the program. You can see a wordcloud of various research topics on the figure on the right. Graduate students present a written research proposal (called prospectus) on their thesis research to their committee and the Department within the first year, and use the feedback received to perfect their plans. At the completion of their program, each graduate student defends their completed thesis (you can see some here) in front of their committee and the Department in a seminar format. Most graduate students also participate as teaching assistants in a wide variety of classes, practicing their skills in teaching.

Typically, being an MSc student is a full-time job, and requires a commitment for the two years of the program. Applicants must have a BSc degree in Biology or related field before they enroll in the program, with a GPA of at least 3.0 in the last 90 quarter credits or 60 semester credits of classes, and take the GRE test by the time of application. For the students who require financial assistance, one option is the Graduate Service Appointments (GSA) program. This program pays a modest stipend and provides a graduate tuition waiver for a subset of graduate students, in return for spending 20 hours a week as a Teaching Assistant in every quarter they receive the appointment. There is a limited number of such appointments, and therefore they are awarded on a needs-based and competitive basis.

Does that all sound interesting? If yes, the first thing you need to do is decide which faculty you would be interested in working with. Our faculty at EWU have a wide diversity of research backgrounds and interests, from neurobiology to microbiology to plant systematics and beyond. You can also take a look at our current list of 28 grad students (they are a good bunch!), where you can read about some of their research projects. Once you decided on the faculty that you’re interested to work with, send them a quick email and ask if they are looking for a new graduate student starting next fall. If yes, you can start discussing potential thesis project ideas, and put together your application materials. It is very important that you identify and get in touch with a potential major advisor, as they are your advocates throughout the application process.

If you’re applying for a GSA position, the deadline for applications is February 20, otherwise the application deadline is April 1st. The application materials include transcripts, GRE scores and two letters of recommendations. I mention these last as you do have to be timely with the letters when applying – several previous graduate students did not get a GSA position because their letters of recommendations were missing, as they didn’t leave enough time for their references to write their letters. Grades and GRE scores are of course very important, but the most important aspect is to have a connection to a potential major advisor who really wants to work with you.


Wordcloud based on the professional title of EWU Biology MSc graduate alumni

Alumni of the EWU Biology MSc graduate program have been very successful in their career, obtaining permanent, full-time jobs relevant to their degrees (see wordcloud on left hand side based on their professions), all across the US as well as abroad (see map below). You can explore our alumni in more detail, for specific time periods and broken down by major advisor here. If you see yourself in the future in these locations,professions and positions depicted on the wordcloud, consider applying to our graduate program soon. We’ll be happy to hear from you!


Approximate location of EWU Biology MSc graduate alumni (one student in Taiwan not shown)


Welcome our new Science Education faculty, Bo Idsardi


Tell us a little bit about yourself! How did you end up becoming faculty at Eastern?

I was born and raised in central and south Florida. I attended the University of Florida to pursue a B.S. in biology and then a M.S. in Entomology, both with a focus on physiological and molecular adaptations to environmental stressors. During my studies at UF I became interested in science education from my work at a science outreach center that created scientist-teacher partnerships. After my M.S., I pursued a Ph.D. in science education at the University of Georgia. There I studied science education majors’ understanding of the practices scientists use, students’ problem solving in biochemistry, and undergraduate science faculty instructional practices. With my background in biology and research focus in science education, the biology education position at EWU was a perfect fit.

Can you tell us a little bit about the research projects that you’re starting in your lab? What opportunities do undergraduate or graduate students have to help you in these projects?


Bo and Lauren

My research focuses on K-12 and undergraduate science education. One project currently underway explores how science and mathematics faculty implement an innovative teaching approach, the flipped classroom, and the effects of this approach on student learning. My lab will compare student learning in flipped classroom formats to student learning in traditional lecture formats. Other projects include how K-12 and undergraduate instructors use their ideas of how students learn to plan for, implement, and reflect on instruction, and the assessment practices used.



What is your favorite organism, and why?



Mantispa styriaca by Gilles San Martin

I find the diversity of insects fascinating. One of my favorite insect families are mantisipids, or mantis flies. These predatory insects have modified, raptor-like front legs, like praying mantises. Another favorite is Lethocerus americanus, also known as a giant water bug. These freshwater dwelling predators also have raptor-like front appendages.



What’s the most important thing that you’d like students to know about you?

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I believe education is not just a means to a job, but a learning process that by design can change learners and enable them to change the world. I encourage students to not strictly focus on learning content in classes, but also develop scientific habits of mind they can use to change the way they approach and solve problems in all walks of life.

EWU alumni Jessi Allen joins Biology faculty

In the spirit of homecoming week, we’d like to welcome an Eagle who returned to the nest: Jessi Allen, the EWU alumni who has joined our faculty this fall! We asked her a few questions so you can get to know her.

Tell us a little bit about yourself! How did you end up becoming faculty at Eastern?

I was born and raised in the Tri-Cities, and originally came to Eastern as an undergraduate to study music education (I play the saxophone). However, I fortuitously ended up majoring in biology, and working in Robin O’Quinn’s lab where I got hooked on researching biodiversity. Searching for rare spring-beauties in the deserts of eastern Oregon with Dr. O’Quinn ended up shaping a great deal of my graduate research.

After completing my degree at EWU. I worked at Oregon State University on lichens with Bruce McCune, and at The New York Botanical Garden herbarium on a number of different fungal and plant collections. I then pursued a PhD at The New York Botanical Garden and the City University of New York Graduate Center where I had the great pleasure of spending 4.5 years surrounded by botanists and soaking in all the plant knowledge that I could manage (there are too many fine botanists I had the pleasure of working with to list here). My research as a graduate student focused largely on climate change impacts on rare and endangered lichens in eastern North America, with a dash of population genomics thrown in. Most of my field work involved bushwhacking over hundreds of miles through the southern Appalachians looking for tiny rare lichens, the point at which O’Quinn’s training came in very handy.

During my graduate school I began working on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red-Listing of lichens, through which I met my future post-doctoral advisor, Dr. Christoph Scheidegger. After wrapping up my degree in New York, I moved to Switzerland and worked for a year at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research outside of Zurich on the influence of river restoration on rare lichens in floodplain forests.

Since graduating from EWU I have had the great good fortune to travel the world studying lichens. Now, I am very happy to be able to call eastern Washington my home again.

Can you tell us a little bit about the research projects that you’re starting in your lab? What opportunities do undergraduate or graduate students have to help you in these projects?

There are two major lines of research I’m starting in my lab.

The first involves understanding how rates of recombination in primarily asexual fungi shape genome evolution, population structure, and adaptation.  For students interested in evolution, genomics lab and computation skills, molecular ecology, and physiology, this would be the route for you.

The second line of research is on biodiversity and conservation. Despite many incredible scientific achievements, like man having walked on the moon, we still have a hazy idea of what species we share this planet with and where they live. Projects in this vein of research will involve collecting throughout the inland northwest to characterize the lichen communities in the region, creating voucher specimens for the lichen herbarium, and gathering data on rare lichen species.

For students interested in conservation, we will be preparing International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red-List assessments for lichens. As a member of the IUCN species survival committee, I am highly involved in this process and look forward to sharing this expertise with students.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in the lab or the classroom?

I love to travel and explore new countries and cities. I also adore nearly all outdoor adventures. The ultimate fun for me is to mix the two. When I’m closer to home I enjoy knitting in a comfy chair with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

What is your favorite fungi/plant/lichen and why?

pin-lichenOne of my favorite lichens is Chaenotheca balsamconensis. It’s a pin lichen, so it’s composed of tiny black stalks with a mass of spores in a cup at the top, and almost always overlooked. It only grows on the fungus Trichaptum abietinum, which only grows on dead conifers. The stalks poke up off of the mushroom, and the algae are hidden down in the mushroom tissue. So, it’s a fungus that grows only on one species of fungus, and that fungus only grows on dead conifers. I love that level of niche specificity.

It gets even better, because the stalk produces a compound that turns bright magenta when a strong base is passed over it.


What’s the most important thing that you’d like the students to know about you?

I believe the EWU biology department offers great resources for students to learn and achieve their career goals, but it requires taking advantage of those resources. The professors in the department are doing more than just teaching, they are doing interesting research, and I really encourage students to get involved in a lab because the best way to learn about science is to do science. An added bonus is that research is really fun.


Please read her first post for our blog below!

EWU community contribute to major ecological conference held in Spokane

The Society for Ecological Restoration and the Society of Wetland Scientists, two major professional societies, held a joint meeting in downtown Spokane October 15-18 with over 380 presenters. The theme of the meeting was ‘Restoring Resilient Communities in a Changing Landscape’. During the conference scientists, practitioners, and land managers came together to share their research and ideas, and discuss plans for the future. The board of directors for the Society for Ecological Restoration International met at the same time, bringing scientists from as far away as Europe and Asia. Eastern Washington University students, alumni, faculty, and staff made substantial contributions the conference through presentations, symposium organizing, and volunteering.

The biology department chair, Dr. Rebecca Brown, organized a symposium on prairie restoration in the Inland Northwest to gather specialists as planning for the 150 acre prairie restoration on EWU campus is in full swing. Presenters in the symposium came from many organizations including the Palouse Prairie Foundation, Washington State University, and the Nez Perce Tribe, along with EWU representatives, like Erik Budsberg, Justin Bastow, and Carmen Nezat.

During the prairie restoration symposium, EWU was well-represented. Robin O’Quinn introduced the Palouse eco-region and outlined its rapid transformation from productive prairie to productive agriculture, with most of the prairie conversion happening between the 1880s and 1890s. She invited those in the session to not get stuck trying to recreate the past, but to think critically about how we can use the prairie remnant that we have left to inform how we want to maximize function and bring back what we can.

Following Robin was James Riser who demonstrated a GIS based model for locating prairies. Angela Sondema followed with a presentation on the Nez Pierce tribes efforts to locate prarie on tribal lands for conservation, and Erik Budsberg introduces people to EWU’s Prairie Restoration project.

After lunch the session continued with presentations from Justin Bastow on soil food webs and nematodes during restoration, and Tanya Cheeke shared some ideas on how to harness the power of soil fungi to do just that! Kurt Merg with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife shared his experiences on the trials and tribulations of large scale prairie restoration. Finally, Carmen Nezat presented on her students’ findings on soil lead levels resulting from a trap shooting range that EWU used to run in the proposed restoration site. Though elevated, lead levels in the soil was below the limit of concern.

Jim Hallett, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER), and Adjunct Faculty in Biology, hosted a Board meeting at EWU on 13-14 October. Ten directors from the U.S., Canada, Finland, and South Africa attended in person with remote participation from Brazil, India, Germany, and Australia. Five SER staff members also participated. At the conference, Jim Hallett and George Gann conducted a roundtable on the SER International Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration. Peggy O’Connell and Jim Hallett also presented results of a multi-year program to assess the progress of restoration on Tribal lands.

Current graduate students and alumni presented and volunteered at the conference as well. Notably, Alexa Whipple, a current graduate student, presented her research on the influence of beavers and fire on riparian resilience and Wendal Kane, a recent alum, presented his research on soil food webs of the Olympic Peninsula. An Alum, and former McNair Scholar, Heather Fuller, who now works for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, presented her work on rehabilitating riparian habitat on the Kenai River.

Overall, the conference was a great success. In the face of rapid and often negative environmental change, the work that people at this conference do is both challenging and inspiring. The hundreds of people at the conference are all working to understand and restore landscapes throughout North America, and scientists and students from EWU are doing their part to add to these good works.

SERBelow is a complete list of presentations given by EWU students, staff, and faculty:

Wendal Kane and Justin Bastow. Influence of Soil Abiotic Characteristics and Nitrogen Fixing Vegetation on Riparian Soil Food Webs of the Olympic Peninsula, WA.

Erin D. Dascher. An Assessment of Functional River Connectivity in the Spokane River Basin.

Erik Budsberg.EWU Campus Palouse Prairie Restoration Plan.

Rebecca Brown. Prairie Restoration in the Inland Northwest Symposium Organizer.

Margaret O’Connell and James Hallett. Monitoring change in ecological restoration: Species composition of vertebrate and plant taxa as indicators

Carmen A. Nezat, Emily Houtz and Jayce Lazuhrcatt. Prairie soil chemical composition after a century of wheat production.

Alexa Whipple. Riparian resilience in the face of interacting disturbances: Wildfire, erosion and beaver (Castor canadensis) in grazed riparian systems of the western United States.

George D. Gann and James G. Hallett. SER’s Standards of Practice for Ecological Restoration. Use, evolution and case studies from the Northwest.

Justin Bastow. The Palouse Prairie Restoration is an opportunity to understand the role of soil food webs in restoration.

Jessica L. Allen. Conservation Translocations of Epiphytic Lichens: Methods for Transplanting Rare Species and Whole Communities.

Biology faculty and students active participants in Palouse Prairie Restoration Project at Eastern

At the western edge of the EWU campus stretch 130 acres of rolling hills, planted in wheat. Two hundred years ago, these hills would have been Palouse Prairie, a diverse assemblage of native grasses and wildflowers, with scattered pine trees and wetlands, burrowed beneath by giant earthworms, up to three feet long. Today, Palouse Prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America, with less than 1% retaining its original vegetation. The University has committed to restoring these hills to native vegetation, a plan masterminded by Erik Budsberg, Campus Sustainability Officer. The first planting will begin in Fall 2019 on 5 – 10 acres, followed by larger scale planting the following year. The entire restoration process will likely continue for many more years.



Kamiak Butte, a remnant portion of the Palouse Prairie, illustrates what land restored to native prairie may look like

This restoration project has the potential to be a valuable resource for the larger community. Several EWU faculty, including Kathy Baldwin (Education), Justin Bastow, Robin O’Quinn, Becky Brown, Camille McNeely, Krisztian Magori (all Biology), and Erik Budsberg, have received an EPA Environmental Education grant in order to make sure community members of all ages are aware of, and involved in shaping the restoration. The grant will fund field trips for community groups to the restoration site, as well as native prairie remnants. Participating community groups will also be involved in cultivating native flowers to be planted out next fall, and helping to draft interpretative signs for the restored site about their experiences. Two graduate students, Sarah Hill (Biology) and Alison Cooley (Education) will spearhead these outreach and education projects over the next year.

The restoration project is already gaining quite a lot of interest. Rebecca Brown, Department Chair in Biology has organized a symposium specifically on Prairie restoration in the Inland Northwest at the Joint Conference of the Society of Wetland Scientists and the Society for Ecological Restoration that was just held this week at the Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane, WA. This was a large and prestigious conference, with several hundred presentations over four days, and it was good to see the EWU Biology department well represented by faculty, students, and alumni. In addition, the two co-PIs, Justin Bastow and Kathy Baldwin, as well as Erik Budsburg were interviewed about the project on the Spokane Public Radio. As the project progresses, we’re looking forward to see how it develops!

For more information about the Palouse Prairie Region Restoration, contact Erik Budsberg at

Dr. Suzanne Schwab

This is EWU Professor Emeritus Suzanne Schwab. She’s pictured here in her favorite office, which is anywhere that is not inside.


Dr. Schwab is a mycologist (that’s fungus-specialist, to those of you not in the know), but also likes plants, insects, and microbes. And dogs. And she knows a lot about each of those things.

She started teaching at EWU in 1983, which (to give some historical context) is the year that Mario Brothers was introduced as a Nintendo arcade game, and Fraggle Rock debuted. She has since taught the entire introductory biology series, botany, cell biology, plant physiology, mycology, plant-microbe interactions, and about twenty other courses. During that time, she mentored and inspired countless undergraduates, and many, many grateful graduate students; this author among them. She has received a number of awards, including the Dean’s Excellence Award, for her efforts.

Dr. Schwab is known for her wickedly dry sense of humor, and her ability to teach exquisitely complex biological processes in a memorable, understandable, and sometimes hilarious manner. She is also known for challenging exams, and her brutal editing techniques (it’s difficult to imagine how many science students’ writing have been vastly improved by her feedback on drafts and final papers over the last 35 years).

Many students lucky enough to take a field course with her have learned to pay close attention to their surroundings. One minute, she’s right in the middle of a group of students, delivering instructions; and then – much like a wood sprite – she’s off! Through a thicket and over a hill, leaving students who were glancing at their phones to give chase.

I cannot recount how many Eastern Biology alumni I have spoken to who have stated some variation of the following:

“Is Dr. Schwab still there? She was one of the best instructors I ever had. I took every class with her that I could.”

Until recently, I was able to report that, yes – Dr. Schwab was still teaching, and still delighting and challenging students. This quarter began without her, however – she packed up her dry erase markers at the start of summer, sampled the cakes at the retirement party, and zipped off to the forests where she can now spend as much time as she pleases. Her departure (which we had a long time to prepare for, to be fair) has left a number of us struggling to temper a profound sense of loss with our gratitude for the time and love she put in to her craft.*

Even if you were not fortunate enough to have had classes with Dr. Schwab, a quick read through of the post that follows this one will give you a sense of her character. If you did have the pleasure of learning from her, you are in for a chuckle.

Dr. Schwab, congratulations on your retirement! You are missed.


~Amy Gray


*Dr. Schwab (ever the editor) would point out that my word choice here suggests that she might be dead, rather than just retired. I will leave it as is – partly out of arbitrary stubbornness, but mostly because she is fond of footnotes.

The rudest fungus – a post from Suzanne!

A New Wing Isn’t the Only Thing Being Erected at the Science Building


Things I Get to Write About Now that I’m Retired


Suzanne Schwab

            Recently, I received an anonymous affidavit, complete with supporting photographic evidence, documenting that the very earth surrounding the EWU Science Building was exposing my source to an episode of startling crassness. Given the salaciousness of the current news cycle, I should report that the affidavit did not involve any member of the federal executive branch, Congress, or current or future Supreme Court justices. Or their staff. Rather, the alleged exhibitionist was a mushroom well known to mycologists.

This mushroom was given the taxonomic binomial Phallus impudicus L., by Linneas in 1753, and descriptions of the fungus in Europe date back at least to 1597, when the English botanist John Gerard described it as the “pricke fungus” (Benjamin, 1995). In case you don’t want to look up the Latin translation yourself, Phallus impudicus translates to shameless penis. So, my anonymous source was not the first, nor the second, person to notice the resemblance of a toadstool to male genitalia.


Phallus impudicus  adorning the mulch outside the Science Building

So, what’s up with these toadstools you ask? The genus Phallus, which also goes by the ever so slightly more polite name of stinkhorn, contains 18 named species of saprophytic toadstools, and used to be classified as a type of puffball. Advances in molecular systematics throws the close kinship to puffballs in doubt, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. The stinkhorn’s classification with puffballs was based on the early stages of the development of the fruiting body, during which the spore bearing “gleba” is encased in a structure shaped like… well let’s say, like an egg. Unlike typical puffballs, the gleba of stinkhorns does not remain discretely enclosed, but soon emerges on the tip of a rapidly expanding (by fungal standards) stalk. The stalk can reach full expansion in a matter of about 4 to 8 hours, can exert enough force during its expansion to thrust its way through sidewalks, and has been calculated to be capable of lifting up to about 400 kg of asphalt (Niksic, et al., 2004). In case you were wondering (and I know you were), full expansion in P. impudicus can be up to about 25 cm.   Stinkhorns get their common name because they stink. Unlike most basidiomycete mushrooms that depend on wind to disperse their spores, the stinkhorns emit a carrion-like odor that attracts flies to the slimy gleba. It’s common for mycologists to dry specimens of mushrooms that they wish to preserve for herbarium or Mycology class collections in a ventilated drying oven. You can pretty much render a building uninhabitable if you attempt this with some of the more pungent stinkhorn species.

Ask me how I know this.

The P. impudicus caught on camera by my anonymous source has several interesting close relatives. Ravenel’s phallus (Phallus ravenelii Berk. & M. A. Curtis) was first described and named in 1873 by two prominent botanists/clergyman to honor the South Carolina botanist H.W. Ravenel. It seems like there might be an interesting story there, but perhaps Berkeley and Curtis were simply acknowledging that Ravenel had collected the specimens used for the description of the species. At any rate, Darwin’s eldest daughter Etty is reported to have been so offended by the suggestive morphology of this toadstool that she felt compelled to protect the morals of the maids by wandering through the woods, sniffing out the suggestive toadstools like a truffle hound, taking any fruiting bodies she “captured” back to her drawing room where she would burn them behind locked doors (Cornell Mushroom Blog, 2018).

Another member of the Phallus clan, Phallus drewesii Desjardin & Perry, made quite a splash in mycological circles when it was first described in 2009. It’s most noteworthy features are its diminutive size (about 5 cm), the fact that it grows sideways rather than upward, and is “almost limp”. This miniature Phallus was named to honor Robert Drewes, curator of the California Academy of Sciences herpetology collection. It seems like there might be an interesting story there, but Dr. Drewes (who also has a blind snake named after him) seems to be a good sport, claiming that he is “utterly delighted” to have a diminutive, sideways growing, almost limp Phallus immortalizing his name (Borrell, 2009).

Of course, a logical question upon encountering a Phallus emerging from your lawn or flower bed or compost pile is “can I eat it?” The fetid odor is pretty daunting, but the somewhat surprising answer is yes, Phallus toadstools are edible, and reportedly “actually quite good” (Volk, 1999). They are either eaten in the “egg” stage or the slimy spore mass is removed and the less odiferous stalk is eaten. Species are even cultivated and sold in markets in China. Asian, European, and African cultures have used the toadstools for various medicinal purposes including as a treatment for rheumatism, epilepsy, gout, and – no surprise here – as an aphrodisiac. But as my anonymous source’s photography illustrates, one of the more interesting roles of this fungus may be as an indirect food source. Look closely at my source’s photograph.  See that brown thing next to the main attraction? It’s a praying mantis, caught in the act of apparently waiting a bit too patiently for the flies attracted to the stinkhorn. So, we have a predatory insect waiting to capture some spore-dispersing flies attracted by the odor of a phallic toadstool that is decomposing the organic matter in the soil surrounding the EWU Science Building. Nature is so cool!


A praying mantis lies in wait outside the EWU Science
Building hoping to capture some flies visiting a toadstool
that smells like rotting meat.

And I haven’t even told you yet about the fungus that produces performance- enhancing drugs while parasitizing the praying mantis.


Benjamin, Denis R. 1995. Cultural attitudes toward mushrooms. Mushrooms: Poisons and Panaceas—A Handbook for Naturalists, Mycologists and Physicians. New York, New York: WH Freeman and Company. pp. 6–7.

Borrell, B. 2009. Penis-shaped mushroom named after frog expert.  Scientific American News Blog.

Cornell Mushroom Blog. 2018.  Phallus ravenelii: the common stinkhorn Ravenel’s stinkhorn.  Katie Hodge, editor.

Niksic, M., Hadzic I., and M. Glisic. 2004. Is Phallus impudicus a mycological giant?
Mycologist 18: 21-22.

Volk, T. 1999.  Dictyophora duplicata, the veiled stinkhorn or the netted stinkhorn.  Tom Volk’s Mushroom of the Month Blog.