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.

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!