Marian University's Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab Conservation Efforts Boosted by Amos Butler Audubon Society Grant

by Jonathan W. Lowery, Ph.D., Assistant Provost for Research and Scholarship | May 15, 2024

Marian University has received a grant from the Amos Butler Audubon Society’s Birdathon to advance environmental restoration of the Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab. The restoration work will be led by professor of biology and EcoLab Director David Benson, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology and EcoLab Science Director Zachary Sylvain, Ph.D., and Sarah Moss (Downing), the full-time restoration ecologist for the EcoLab. 

The Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab is 75 acres of wetland and lowland forest on the north end of the Marian campus that was originally part of the James Allison Riverdale estate. The area underwent a comprehensive rehabilitation in 2000 led by Dr. Benson through an initial grant from the Amos Butler Audubon Society and a subsequent grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. In 2011, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust provided a generous $1 million gift to start an endowment for the EcoLab. Since then, the EcoLab has hosted countless Marian University students, faculty, staff, and alumni along with local K-12 students and members of the public on its trails and greenspace—many of whom participate in environmental restoration projects themselves. 

The Birdathon is a fundraiser run by the local Amos Butler Audubon chapter of the National Audubon Society. Each year funds raised are used for bird research and conservation, environmental education, and habitat restoration. Dr. Benson leads “Team EcoLab,” one of the Birdathon teams that compete to see how many bird species they can identify in a 24-hour period. Team EcoLab had their 2024 “big day” in early May and found 77 bird species on the EcoLab property including the rare yellow-billed cuckoo.  

The grant from the Amos Butler Audubon Birdathon will enable continued restoration efforts, including removal of invasive species. After these control efforts, Marian will plant several wetland plant species and grasses to restore diversity and enhance habitats for numerous bird species. The total amount that the Birdathon has awarded to the Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab since 2002 is over $36,000. This is in addition to a $25,000 initial grant in 2000. 

“We are grateful for the continued support from the Amos Butler Audubon Society for the Marian University Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab,” says Dr. Benson. “The funding helps provide the necessary resources for restoring and maintaining this biodiverse area, which enhances our impact on the local community along with providing habitat enhancement for birds and a wide array of other species.” 

The Marian University Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab is open to the Indianapolis community and all ages are welcome to participate through social media, community event days, and volunteerism. Click here for more information about current and upcoming events.

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