Asbury Biology Professor and Students Conserve Forests Through Honeysuckle Research – Asbury University
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December 9, 2022

As children, we remember tasting honeysuckle in our backyards and country fields. Those sweet, simple memories involved a plant species that seemed harmless. Would you ever have guessed that honeysuckle is an invasive species that takes over microhabitats, making them unfavorable for insects, animals, and plants?

Dr. Marvin Ruffner, assistant professor of biology at Asbury University, remains dedicated to bringing public awareness about the harmful ecological effects of honeysuckle, a species with origins in Asia. Through his research, he helps small land owners manage honeysuckle and shift dominance back to native species. Ruffner’s work consists of comparing plot areas and forests with and without honeysuckle. The difference is striking.

“Honeysuckle forms a canopy of shade which makes light difficult to obtain for plants,” Ruffner said. “This reduces biodiversity and the conservation of native species and natural plant communities. I work to rehabilitate areas negatively affected by honeysuckle.”

These efforts reflect Ruffner’s commitment to caring for God’s creation as a biologist, conservationist, and educator.

“Foremost, as a Christian, I feel my role in environment stewardship and natural resources is to honor God and His creation,” he said. “Secondly, I am passionate about conserving and managing our natural areas in general and the populations of plants and animals and the ecosystems they inhabit.”  

Neglecting God’s creation would bring harmful effects to our ecosystems. Ruffner offers insight on the importance of managing honeysuckle as stewards of God’s creation. It’s part of a larger call to care for what God has given humanity in the form of biodiversity.  

“If we, as Christian humans, did not work to manage the honeysuckle, we could end up having a static system in forest and woodland areas,” Ruffner continues. “This would affect the diversity of plants, animals, pollinators, birds, and mammals. I feel one important way in which we, as humans, should honor and glorify God is to be good stewards of our environment and the natural resources God has provided for us to use and conserve our natural resources in a sustainable way.”

Dr. Ruffner’s Shaw School of Sciences students at Asbury play a role in this mission, regularly conducting research alongside their professor. The research series (primarily conducted in the spring) began in 2019 with Madeline Cox ’20 Guivas and has continued with other students such as Abigail Garland ’25 and Andrew Nelson ’23. Garland recently gave a poster presentation at the Kentucky Association of Science conference. Her topic involved the survivability of seedlings from Chinkapin Oak trees near honeysuckle.

“I was fortunate enough to join Dr. Ruffner’s research this summer in which I conducted a side-study of 47 Chinkapin Oak seedlings,” Garland said. “I monitored their growth and survival from May to September and found that there was no significant correlation between seedling survival and honeysuckle. However, I think it is safe to say that the reason for this was due to the short duration of the study. My current hypothesis is that the honeysuckle canopy will negatively affect the growth and survival of Chinkapin Oak seedlings over several (three to five) years.”

These seedlings will be tracked to determine if Garland’s hypothesis is correct.

Andrew Nelson ’23 helped Dr. Ruffner with removing honeysuckle and restoring forest understories.

“Everything God created is good and that includes the environment,” Nelson said. “I think conservation efforts are important for Christians because God gave us this earth, so we should take care of it. Leviticus 25:24 says it best: ‘Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.’”

As citizens, we can take practical steps to manage this damaging (albeit sweet) species.

“I strongly feel each one of us can contribute to managing honeysuckle even on a small scale to help keep it in check,” Ruffner said. “Some ways involve removing it from personal properties and/or volunteering to help remove honeysuckle in our natural areas (i.e., parks, nature preserves, state and national forests, wildlife management areas, etc.).” 

To learn more about why Christians should care about creation, Dr. Ruffner recommends resources from the BioLogos Foundation, a Christian advocacy group: https://biologos.org/common-questions/why-should-christians-care-for-creation.  

The Shaw School of Sciences offers 14 majors and six minors, including biology, chemistry, and physics: https://www.asbury.edu/about/offices/schools/science-health-math/.