Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Moving from the classroom to the field

The following is guest post by Will Gallman, a freshman at Clemson University enrolled in Dr. Barrett's Creative Inquiry course focused on amphibian conservation.

I am a freshman studying in the field of Wildlife and Fisheries Biology. The Landscape Ecology of Appalachia creative inquiry (CI) interested me because it seemed related to some of science fair projects I completed in high school, and because I was ready to start learning applicable field techniques. The research we are doing as a whole is designed to see how the long term effect of ex-urban development in the mountains is affecting salamander populations in first order streams. Each student also has an individual research project that we are to complete alongside the main research. My individual project, will be determining whether elevation influences the relative abundance of salamanders.

So far for most of this course, because of cold weather, we have been reading and discussing existing research papers. I have benefited greatly from this, because I have learned research methods along with a plethora of things about salamanders and other amphibians. These papers also have helped us narrow the topics for personal research. The research topic I chose didn’t directly relate to any of the papers, but the papers offered ideas on the types of research that can be done.  

I originally had a couple of different ideas for research but narrowed it down to studying how elevation influences the abundance of salamanders. During a summer ecology experience, I went on a trip where we learned about and caught terrestrial salamanders. I learned, based on the elevation, certain species of salamanders are more commonly found. From this information, along with recent research, I developed my topic. Knowing that certain species are more common based on elevation I wanted to see if elevation influenced the relative abundance. I will gather the elevation data of the testing sites from the GIS mapping system, and determine the abundance from the actual amounts and species of salamanders found in the field work. Currently, I do not have enough data to make any predictions because we have only sampled two locations.

We recently went on a weekend trip to sample test sites in Highlands, North Carolina. I learned about different factors that can influence data collection, the methods used in the research, and learned both salamander and vegetation identification. The weather conditions that we experienced on this trip were far less than ideal. One of the sampling days it rained and was overcast; leading to low visibility and detectability. It also increases the water level and stream flow. The second day we did not sample due to snow being on the ground. In addition to looking for salamanders at each site, we also measure the pH, conductivity, temperature, vegetation, stream bed composition, and percent undercut banks. All of these variables are measured within each five meter sampling stretch, which are separated by ten meter resting periods. In my personal research project I will also record the elevation of the test site, calculate the relative abundance at each site, and analyze the data in order to make a conclusion on my personal research project.

This Creative Inquiry provides undergraduates with an opportunity to participate in field research that may not be done in classes. The personal projects give us the opportunity to design and conduct our own research, which is a very important skill in the Wildlife and Fisheries Biology field. I have learned much more actually going out in the field and doing things related to this class than I have in a lecture. This class gives us the opportunity to apply methods learned in class to the field: an imperative skill to have when entering the professional world. 

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