Conservation biology, an interdisciplinary study including animal identification, data analysis, environmental restoration, politics, GIS and interpersonal communication, wrapped up last week here at the field station.
Taught by Dr. Aaron Haines, from Millersville University's biology department, students completed three weeks of field work including a trip to the Nature Conservancy in Oyster, VA, to learn about scallop and eelgrass restoration and snorkeling in eelgrass beds.
Mike, Millersville University senior, said his favorite part of the class was the kayaking trips they went on in Shad Landing and Greenbackville.
“Every outing we went on had the essential theme of biodiversity,” Mike said, adding that the class looked at factors like the types of grass growing and species of birds present in the two different ecosystems.
Haines said biodiversity and species richness are the basis of conservation biology, and examining these two concepts can help determine whether an animal’s population is growing, declining or if it’s healthy.
One way the class examined populations was by setting pitfalls.
Senior Millersville University student Kelsey said they caught many toads in their pitfalls, and they used the method of mark and re-capture to see if the area was frequently visited by toads.
“We caught the toads and put pink dye that solidifies at the tip of its toe,” Kelsey said, “It’s a good method to measure population size and density.”
Kelsey mentioned one of her favorite excursions the class went on was an owl and bat survey at night on Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge.
“Something new this year, we have new technology that identifies bats by their calls,” Haines said.
Haines said even though the technology isn’t necessarily perfect, it gives the user a fairly accurate identification of bats’ calls.
“Three species it identified that could potentially be there were the Eastern red bat, which are pretty common, evening bat and little brown bat, which have a declining population. It’s really cool to know Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge could potentially have a little brown bat feeding on its property,” Haines said.
Millersville University senior, Maddie, said the class taught her how valuable human effort can be in conservation.
“The absence or presence of one species can affect an entire ecosystem,” Maddie said.
Maddie added that she learned it’s important for people of all backgrounds to be involved in conservation.
“You don’t just have to be a biologist in conservation, you can do anything,” she said.
Haines said he strived to teach his students not only the scientific aspects of conservation, but how to successfully work with people to meet both the wants and needs of conservationists and the public as well as legal aspects, such as environmental impact statements.
“It brought it full circle that scientists need to work with the community and meet their needs while still achieving your goals,” Mike said.
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