Thursday, December 8, 2011

Research Methods in Biology

As an undergraduate student at Finger Lakes Community College, I feel very priveleged to have had (and continue to have) some of the experiences that I have, as an undergrad. That's alot of 'haves'. Well, I AM lucky! I've done cool things like using an electro-shock boat, setting gill nets, studying black bears (and touching one!), bird banding, camping=college credit, and on and on and on...and all of it has counted towards my degrees!

Professionally I would like to bring nature to children, and to start, I would like to introduce K-12 students to camera trapping and value of remotely viewing wild animals. Last year I was introduced to a very thorough camera trap curriculum used in Minnesota by John Van Niel. And I  would like to adapt/write a camera trap curriculum to be used either at the Muller Field Station, or the East Hill Campus in the future.

I am currently enrolled in FLCC's new course, BIO 291: Research Methods in Biology being offered this coming spring semester. I have been interested in spending time at the Muller Field Station since I worked there as a work study student in the fall of 2010. When I became aware that BIO 291 was being offered, my thoughts began to spin. I am a dual major in Natural Resources Conservation and Environmental Studies. My passion lies with biology and specifically wildlife biology. Earlier this semester, John forwarded me the course information for BIO 291. He and I have spent time on our own field study this past year focusing on black bear trail and sign, and he is aware of how interested I am in wildlife biology research.

Earlier this semester, I spoke with the Environmental Education Outreach Coordinator for the Muller Field Station, Nadia Harvieux about possibly undertaking something of this nature with the school groups that visit Muller. She was excited and supportive, and gave me the go ahead to start brainstorming.

So, here is my plan:

I would like to obtain at least five camera traps (Cuddeback Infrared), and use them to do several possible field studies (depending on time and resources). My main focus will be on large terrestrial and semi-aquatic mammal activity. I will deploy the five cameras, and monitor them throughout the semester. All images and video captured will be considered data, as they will show a) species, b) location, and c) a time/date stamp. I will need to create a strict protocol for carrying out my study. I am also interested in comparing the use of scent lure vs. not using it, which will be a variable in the study. The results of camera traps can be very unpredictable, depending on the camera placement, which is why I want to maximize my chances of trapping wildlife on the cameras by attracting them using the scent lure.

My preliminary question is: At what time in a 24 hour activity period are medium and larger sized terrestrial and semi-aquatic mammals most and least active in both wetland and upland habitats? Does the presence of a scent lure influence the peaks and lows?

I have not attempted a field study completely on my own, and so I am very interested in building the entire study from the ground up and learning biological research methods. In speaking with John, he suggested a different perspective of the scientific method. The traditional method is very linear, and does now allow room for adaption or change of the question, hypothesis, or method. This method is more appropriate for a lab study, than a field study. The method he suggested trying out is more of a web. It allows for change, adaption, adjustment, and amending. I feel this method is a more authentic way of studying wildlife in the field.

I have several objectives that I would like to get out of this course and study. I see myself in the field of science for the rest of my professional life. Many undergraduate students aren’t allowed the opportunity to participate in research until their master’s degree program. I consider myself extremely lucky as an undergrad at a community college, that I’m being introduced to and encouraged to engage in science and research. Participating in this course may help me get a leg up in the ‘real world’ when I being my career search, or to be accepted into a master’s program, which I absolutely want to achieve. I want to get my hands dirty, I want to spend time in the field, I want to quantify my data, and I want to share my findings with others. BIO 291 is the perfect introduction to research.

The end goal of both is to have gained some understanding of the wildlife at the field station, and then determining a way to communicate this with visiting K-12 students.

Clinton Krager, an associate professor of biology at FLCC, will be my instructor/adviser through this process. I also expect to work with Nadia and the school groups often, as well as John who has alot of experience with camera trapping.


I realize this blog is long and wordy, so I'll post some pictures of animals "trapped" at the field station last fall...they're more fun to look at  ;)

White-tailed deeer

2 beaver


Great Blue Heron

3 river otter

Black bear

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