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By Krisy Gashler
  • Cornell Botanic Gardens
  • Plants
  • Biodiversity
  • Organisms
  • Environment
  • Nature
  • Planet
  • Natural Resources
  • Ecosystems
Bogs have always been fascinating and mysterious ecosystems — from the variety of insectivorous plants that thrive there, to the acid-rich environment that can pickle dead bodies and preserve them intact for tens of thousands of years.
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But scientists are increasingly understanding that bogs are also crucial ecosystems in the fight against climate change: in some cases, bogs can actually sequester more carbon than rain forests.

Bogs are an ecologically unique aquatic system. They occur in flat areas with very slow water outflow, so as dead plants decay, they form peat. Over thousands of years, the acidic peat accumulates, trapping all that carbon. The plants and animals that can survive in such an environment have adapted in intriguing ways. Most plants, for example, gather their nutrients from soil.

But in bogs, those nutrients are trapped, so organisms like the pitcher plant have adapted digestive enzymes to consume insects.

Paul DuBowy ’75, majored in natural resources in CALS, then went on to a distinguished career as a wetland ecologist, including in academia and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For the past decade, he has traveled and taught through the Fulbright Program in Poland, Peru, Brazil and China.

“A lot of the earth’s carbon is locked up in these peat deposits. That’s why wetlands in general and bogs in particular are so important, because they lock up and hold the carbon,” DuBowy said. “And from an ecological perspective, bogs are really unique. Insectivorous plants, for example, are more abundant in bogs than anywhere else in nature.”

DuBowy and his wife, Virginia Steinhaus DuBowy, have established an endowment to fund a student internship at Cornell Botanic Gardens. The Paul DuBowy Internship in Bog and Wetland Conservation will help continue the university’s tradition of excellence and leadership in bog and wetland science and management.

The Cornell Botanic Gardens Internship program was established more than 20 years ago, to provide students with full-time, hands-on learning opportunities in natural resources management, plant propagation, and public education, among others.

Internships are full-time, 10-week jobs over the summer, and include “Learning Mondays” in which interns learn skills and take field trips to enhance their knowledge about natural resource and public garden management, such as tree climbing, plant identification and fundraising. The DuBowys traveled to Ithaca in summer 2019 to help lead a “Bog Day” field trip to two nearby bogs.

Jenny Zwigard ’22, is majoring in Environment and Sustainability, and she interned this summer at the Mundy Wildflower Garden. She hopes to focus her career on combating climate change and environmental degradation.

“This internship has helped me form a relationship with nature that I never could have achieved without working directly with plants almost eight hours a day, five days a week,” Zwigard said. “By forming this greater appreciation for the unique and powerful qualities every plant has to offer to the ecosystem, I have strengthened my desire to learn about environmental science and work to sustain the planet we have.”

Lynn Swain, director of development for Cornell Botanic Gardens, said all of the Botanic Gardens student internships are funded by donors like the DuBowys.  

“The internship program provides life-altering hands-on experiences to Cornell students year after year,” she said. “This is a direct, visible opportunity for a donor to make a tangible difference.”

Paul and Virginia DuBowy both chose to provide gifts to their undergraduate alma maters (Virginia’s is University of North Dakota) because they wanted to leave a legacy of continued support for the field to which they’ve dedicated their life’s work.

“We were looking for opportunities to provide training and learning to undergraduates, because we so appreciate the educations we received as undergraduates,” Paul DuBowy said. “The background, the appreciation, the understanding of natural systems, the foundation in sciences I got at Cornell is something that has stuck with me for over 40 years now.”

Header image: Paul DuBowy '75 joins botanist Robert Wesley (front) as he leads an excursion through a wetlands ecosystem near Ithaca, New York in July 2019. Photo by Chris Kitchen.

This article was originally published in the CALS Magazine.

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