Matthew Peña is a current junior majoring in forestry. Matt grew up in Naperville, Illinois, and is a recipient of undergraduate research funding that he uses to study the plants and biodiversity in and around Michigan State University.

I initially received funding for research in the summer of 2021. One of my professors was looking for students to collect data on some of MSU’s natural areas, and I jumped at the opportunity. I collected tree measurements within each of our plots along with an overall species diversity assessment of each natural area. This was right after my first year of school, so it felt great to be able to start putting my forestry skills to use. I learned that this data was also going to be used by MSU’s Campus Natural Areas Classroom, Curriculum, and Conservation Committee (CNA3C). It was amazing to know my work would be so impactful to others at my own university.

This job led to me joining the Beal Botanical Garden to continue work on both the natural areas and the species we have living here on campus. Members of the garden saw my work and gave me funding to do additional projects related to MSU and its natural areas. It was incredible to be able to continue my work in natural sciences. I began in the winter of 2022 with first compiling literature related to one of the natural areas, which can be viewed on the campus natural areas website. The reports I created contain research done at one of the natural areas, so website visitors can see the different data collected at each site.

Additionally, I worked a lot on iNaturalist to better understand the state of each natural area’s biodiversity. iNaturalist is an app that makes identifications of any living organism (plants, animals, insects, etc.), and after identification, the app records the coordinates of where that organism was seen. Those coordinates are then placed on a world map for anyone to see. Anyone is able to download the app and use it, which is great for acquiring an abundance of data. In iNaturalist, I organized each plant identification into different projects based on which natural area the plant was found in. For example, Baker Woodlot has its own project that contains every verifiable plant species found within the woodlot.

My most recent project deals with the trees planted all around the main campus. My team and I at Beal Botanical Gardens thought it would be a great idea to try and have each native Michigan species represented on campus, so I have spent time searching through databases and traveling around campus to identify the species not currently present, along with nearby locations we can use as a seed/propagation source for the necessary species. This semester I will finish this project and move into invasive species work. I’ll do more invasive species removal, along with a small research project attempting to identify the best method to remove invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle.

by Matt Peña