This educational collaboration between Washington University's Tyson Research Center and the Missouri Botanical Garden's Shaw Nature Reserve is designed to engage St. Louis area high school students in scientifically-based exploration of the natural world. Linked programs of field training (SIFT) and field research (TERF) provide teenagers with experiences that realistically reflect research in environmental biology. Participating teens learn a variety of field investigation skills and then have the opportunity to put those new skills to work assisting career scientists with real research projects.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

TERFers present at WUSTL Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium

All the hard work on scientific posters has paid off!

The TERFers presented the results of their summer research on Saturday, October 10 at the Washington University Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Elizabeth Poor, Clayton High School '17, Novel functional traits aid the success of the invasive biennial Carduus nutans

Aspen Workman, Kirkwood High School '17, Competitive release may increase the fitness of exotic plants in their novel range
Bailee Warsing, Granite City High School '16, Urban box turtles have a higher prevalence of physical lesions than rural box turtles
Claire Kosola, Lafayette High School '16, The abundance of two box turtle food types, ground vegetation and earthworms, are similar in urban and rural sites
Jenita Larry, Hazelwood West High School '16, The importance of soil microbes for functional traits of Ratibida pinnata and Echinacea purpurea (Asteraceae)
Jolena Pang, Clayton High School '16, Interactive effects of resource level and invasion on mosquito abundance
Katie Buatois, Eureka High School '16, Comparison of urban and rural box turtles shows no difference in Body Condition Index
Lexie Beckermann, Eureka High School '17, Interactive effects of resource level and invasion on mosquito abundance
Liz Rand, Parkway North High School '17, Ambient temperature differences during the hottest month does not affect daily linear displacement in box turtles

It was wonderful to have some familiar faces come out in support of the TERFers and Tyson undergraduate fellows presenting summer research!

Dr. Jonathan Myers and Adam Vorel (SIFT & TERF alumnus!)
Tyson undergraduate fellows (left to right) Thomas Van Horn (SIFT & TERF alumnus!), Ted Little, Molly Kuhs, and Diana Jerome
Tyson undergrad fellow (and SIFT & TERF alumna!) Brenda Alvarado presented research on the effects of exotic plant species on pollination.
Two-time Tyson undergrad fellow Bri Tiffany presented research from the St. Louis Box Turtle Project.
Tyson undergrad fellows Evan Alger-Meyer and Diane Jerome presented research from the Tyson Forest Plot.
Tyson undergrad fellow Molly Kuhs presented results of collaborative research between the Knight and Mangan Labs.

Monday, September 14, 2015

TERFers hard at work on scientific posters

An important part of the TERF program that happens after the summer is over is work on scientific posters. Communicating the results of research is critical to the forward movement of science. Since TERFers have spent four weeks collecting data as field scientists, their next step is to communicate their findings the same way that scientists do.

July TERFer Liz Rand listens to Dr. Stephen Blake explain how to organize data for her poster on ambient temperature and daily movement of radio-tagged box turtles.

July TERFer Aspen Workman (left) and technician Amibeth Thompson work together to analyze data for differences in fitness between native and exotic plant species.

Dr. Stephen Blake works with Turtle Team TERFers Claire Kosola (left), Katie Buatois, (center), and Liz Rand (right).

Thursday, July 16, 2015

TERF Experience: Lexie Beckermann

Lexie Beckermann is the July TERFer on Team Mosquito. Her team has many ongoing research projects, but one of particular focus now is a study on how an invasive treehole mosquito (originally native to Japan) might influence the success of a parasite that enters a native treehole mosquito to complete its life cycle. If the invasive mosquito can internalize the parasite but does not have the right conditions to let the parasite grow, then the presence of the invasive mosquito might actually be beneficial to the native mosquito by decreasing the population growth rate of the parasite.

To test this, the team has set up buckets with different levels of resources that either include or exclude the invasive mosquito. They sample the buckets weekly and identify the larvae of the mosquitoes in each bucket to determine population sizes. Since her arrival, Lexie has been learning how to identify mosquito larvae under a microscope.

She seems to be enjoying herself. At the end of the project, the team will destructively sample the buckets, collecting adult mosquitoes and dissecting them to see how many contain parasites. Just one interesting project coming out of Team Mosquito's summer work.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Forest Team in the Research Garden?

This year's Forest Team has been setting up a project in one of the bays of the brand-new Tyson Research Garden. This research space allows teams to create a more controlled research environment than plots in the field, but gives more natural environmental variability than greenhouse experiments. Teams can set up shade structures, control how much rain reaches the ground within their bay, and hand-water with captured rainwater stored in nearby tanks.

July Forest Team TERFer Albert Wang (left, in bright green) helps set up a hoop house structure over the team's bay.
The Forest Team will be using this space to study sapling traits in order to inform future large-scale research projects that will be set up in the forest.

TERFers help with St. Louis Box Turtle Project teacher workshop

This past Friday, the turtle team TERFers helped their mentors host a workshop for St. Louis area teachers. The workshop, which hosted 20 teachers from 19 different schools, was designed to give participants access to activities and data from real, ongoing research that could connect students with the natural world in their own backyard.

The TERFers--and one undergraduate TERF alum--helped groups track tagged turtle stuffed animals (it was raining too hard to track the real ones), walked the teachers through an activity that allowed them to visualize and work with real turtle movement data on Google Earth, and played a board game with the participants designed to demonstrate how giant tortoises on the Galapagos can influence plant population dynamics.

Katie (far left) and Briana, a Tyson Undergraduate Fellow, demonstrate how they collect data on a turtle they find

Bailee (far left) holds up the stuffed turtle while Leyna (SIFT and TERF cohort 5, Tyson Undergraduate Fellow) indicates where the width of the turtle is measured

Leyna and Bri help the teachers pull the turtle movement data from and download them into Google Earth. From there, they can calculate step lengths and home ranges for all of the turtles at Tyson and in Forest Park, allowing them to form hypotheses about habitat use and disease transmission.
All in all, the day seemed to be a great success, and we hope the teachers found what they learned useful!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

SIFT Training Week 2015 - Day 3 (Aquatic Day!)

As per tradition, the third day of the SIFT training week was focused on aquatic systems. The cohort split in two, half of them visiting Brush Creek in the morning and Wolf Run Lake in the afternoon, and the other half doing the opposite. Both groups performed water quality tests at the sites and sampled for organisms in the habitat, recording richness (number of species) and abundance (number of individuals of each species) in their field notebooks. They used these numbers and the species they found to predict whether the systems were healthy or polluted. Good news -- both groups agreed they are healthy!

SIFTers test the water quality at Brush Creek
Biotic sampling at Brush Creek
A SIFTer examining the diversity captured by the sampling at the creek
Water quality testing at the lake
Biotic sampling at the lake was done by dragging these coffee cans through the water. Mesh at the bottom kept any organisms the SIFTers happened to find in the can.
Dragging for aquatic organisms
A SIFTer caught a fishing spider! It was a big hit. Besides being interested in the large spider itself, everyone was intrigued by the shadows it made on the bottom of the container.
Identifying the organisms they found at the lake
Even though sampling in the St. Louis summer can be hard work, all of the SIFTers seemed to thoroughly enjoy Aquatic Day. They stayed focused, asked questions, and were fully transparent about their interest in the organisms they were finding. We couldn't be more happy with this cohort!

Monday, June 22, 2015

SIFT Training Week 2015 - Day 1

This week is the training week for Cohort 8 of SIFT! Cohort 8 boasts 30 SIFTers from 14 schools, and they all made it to day one, where they started off the week getting to know each other and getting comfortable at Shaw.

We started the day with an overview of Shaw and what to expect during the week, then moved outside for some icebreakers. Our discussion of field safety began with seeing who shared our opinions on what falls in our comfort, challenge, and panic zones and ended with examining live ticks in plastic boxes. Dr. James Trager gave a presentation on what exactly field biology means, and the SIFTers got to know each other more over lunch. After lunch, everyone got some practice with GPS units, navigating with a compass, and reading topographical maps before being sent out into Shaw to complete a challenge course in small groups.

SIFT Instructor Aileen Abbott starting the discussion of comfort, challenge, and panic zones
Sharing what experiences take us out of our comfort zones and seeing who agreed. Those who felt similarly challenged stepped into the larger ring representing the challenge zone, and if the experience might cause them to panic, they stepped into the middle ring representing the panic zone. Sometimes seeing that you're not alone in feeling challenged or panicked can help encourage you to step out of your comfort zone.
Learning the SIFT personalized snack system
Learning how to use the GPS units
SIFT program director Lydia Toth giving some GPS instructions that will be very important during the challenge course
This seems like a great group of SIFTers, and we're all excited to get to work with them over the coming week and year.

Monday, June 8, 2015

June TERF Day 1

Today the June TERFers arrived at Tyson! Despite having to wake up early, they were bright-eyed and eager to start their internship. They were troopers about sitting for a while to go over the new TERF guide containing directions, instructions, and policies for their time here, and then they knocked out the Tour de Tyson Challenge designed to get them familiar with key locations on the property.

One of the Challenge locations was the Mincke Quarry Cave, where we found this salamander!
(Left to right) Ciara Shaffer, Elizabeth Poor, Jolena Pang, Bailee Warsing, Katie Buatois, and Megan Kerr taking a group picture at the Tyson high point as a Challenge task.
In the afternoon, the TERFers met with their research teams, and everyone seemed to hit it off. It's shaping up to be a good month, and we hope the TERFers are as excited about it as we are. Welcome to Tyson, June TERFers!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

TERF 2015!

We're so excited that TERF is almost upon us! With the first session starting Monday, we thought we would take a moment to introduce the awesome young people joining us this summer.

Megan Kerr - John F. Kennedy Catholic High School, Natural Enemies Team
Jolena Pang - Clayton High School, Disease Vectors Team
Elizabeth Poor -  Clayton High School, Invasive Plants Team
Ciara Shaffer - Northwest High School, Forest Team
Bailee Warsing - Granite City High School, Turtle Tracking Team
Katie Buatois -  Eureka High School, Turtle Tracking Team

Jenita Larry - Hazelwood West High School, Natural Enemies Team
Lexie Beckermann - Eureka High School, Disease Vectors Team
Aspen Workman - Kirkwood High School, Invasive Plants Team
Albert Wang -Clayton High School, Forest Team
Claire Kosola - Lafayette High School, Turtle Tracking Team
Liz Rand - Parkway North High School, Turtle Tracking Team

We can't wait for the first group of TERFers to arrive, and we hope that they're as eager to start as we are to have them here. Here's to a great summer!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Congratulations to 2014-15 SIFTers

The 2014-15 SIFTers wrapped up their final day in the program with an absolutely amazing cake. They lined up to take pictures before digging in.

SIFTers learn to burn

On Saturday, February 28 SIFTers learned about the use of prescribed fire for land management. James Trager taught how to assess weather and wind conditions, and the plant matter and area of the unit to be burned. Several inches of snow fell immediately after our small controlled burn, leaving the unit safely put out.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

SIFT and TERF Winter Weekend

After the TERF symposium, the TERFers headed out to Shaw Nature Reserve to spend the night as part of the SIFT winter weekend. This gave the SIFTers a chance to talk to the TERFers, but also gave the TERFers a chance to hang out all together one last time.

First off was the dinner with scientists, where the TERFers were one of the rotations. Other guest scientists also attended.

Dr. Catrina Adams, a former paleoethnobotanist who is now director of education for the Botanical Society of America
Dr. Raelene Crandall, a fire ecologist and post-doctoral researcher at WUSTL
The TERFers sharing their experiences with SIFTers
Then came the fun and games.

Some SIFTers highjacked Susan's camera to take a selfie.

While the SIFTers went on a night hike, the TERFers spent the evening sitting in circles.

In the morning, the TERFers went out for a hike of their own.

Clayton and Adam reenacting when a tree almost fell on them in the Tyson Forest Plot.
 They skipped rocks on the Meramec River...

...found the Shaw cave...

...and climbed a bluff...

...until Susan said it was too high.

Then they took some group shots before heading back.