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Life On the Soggy Edges: Two Ecologists Describe the Importance and Vulnerability of the Apostle Islands’ Coastal Wetlands

  • Madeline Island Museum 226 Colonel Woods Avenue La Pointe, WI 54850 (map)

Life On the Soggy Edges:
Two Ecologists Describe the Importance and Vulnerability
of the Apostle Islands’ Coastal Wetlands

June 19th, Wednesday
Madeline Island Museum

Free and Open to the Public
Madeline Island Ferry Line has graciously arranged a special 8:50pm “Ghost Boat” for attendees returning to Bayfield (weather permitting).

Dr. Matt Cooper, Associate Director of the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation,
Assistant Professor of Biology and Natural Resources, Northland College
Dr. Sarah Johnson, Associate Professor of Natural Resources, Northland College

Learn about the Apostle Islands’ types of coastal wetlands and the habitat they provide for regionally unique flora, fauna and how the Apostle Islands wetlands are exhibiting both resilience and vulnerability to regional environmental stressors.


Matthew Cooper
PhD, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana
MS, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan
BS, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan

Background: I am an aquatic ecologist interested in a broad array of research questions. Much of my past work has focused on Great Lakes coastal ecosystems, especially coastal wetlands.

Why Northland: I chose Northland for a number of reasons. First, the degree to which students are involved in cutting edge research at Northland is very exciting and I look forward to working with many excellent students over the coming years. Second, the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation is poised to make a significant positive impact on the region’s freshwater resources and I am proud to be a part of the Center. And third, the Chequamegon Bay region represents the perfect “natural laboratory” for research that will be critical to the future management of the planet’s water resources.

Student Involvement: My research absolutely depends on the dedication and hard work of students. When studying fish or aquatic invertebrate communities, students are often the ones out there setting and retrieving nets, navigating the research boat, collecting water samples, and a host of other things that go into a successful field trip. Back in the lab, students are involved in processing samples, managing data, and preparing reports and manuscripts. Students really are at the heart of what we do.

Personal Interests: I love being on the water, especially with my family. We fish some, but mostly just have fun exploring the bay and islands. I also do a bit of kite surfing, biking, skiing, and running.
— Matthew Cooper, PhD


Sarah Johnson
PhD Botany, University of Wisconsin-Madison
MS Biology, East Carolina University
BS Biology, Northland College

Research: My research program incorporates studies of plant communities, plant populations, and ecological monitoring to address natural resource conservation issues. Benefiting from historical data sets and contemporary re-sampling efforts, I largely focus on dynamics and the context of vegetation change across space and time.

Much of my research focuses on systems with prominent natural disturbance regimes such as floodplain forests, coastal beaches/dunes, and coastal wetlands. The inherent dynamism in these habitats poses interesting challenges in discerning among the roles of multiple interacting drivers of ecosystem change, including changes in: natural disturbance regimes, succession, habitat fragmentation, invasions by pests and pathogens, and climate change.

Working in an applied capacity, I collaborate closely with agency partners, most frequently with the National Park Service.

Why Northland: I am proud of Northland College’s liberal arts mission and emphasis on the environment. I am thankful that Northland continues to include a variety of natural history and field courses in its curriculum, and that experiential learning is happening all around me.

Student Involvement: One of my major goals as faculty at Northland is to provide students with research experiences via participation in my research, student-initiated projects, or projects initiated by local and regional agencies. I encourage hard-working undergraduate students to inquire about capstone research opportunities in my lab.

Personal Interests: Being a botanist, I love to ‘botanize’ while walking my dogs, hiking, and paddling. I dabble in gardening with native plants and stewarding my small woodlot property.
— Sarah Johnson, PhD

This program is made possible by the generous support of the Apostle Islands Area Community Fund.