PS 82-95 - Maximizing research efforts through PhD-mentored undergraduate research experiences: The humacao natural reserve

Friday, August 12, 2011
Exhibit Hall 3, Austin Convention Center
Ricardo J. Colón-Rivera and Rusty A. Feagin, Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

Undergraduate Research Experiences (UREs) are highly influential factors for students that decide to pursue a career in ecology.  Hence, undergraduate students that participate in active research are more likely to go to graduate school and conduct ecological research.  Among the efforts to increase opportunities for undergraduates, the use of graduate students to help mentor the work of the undergraduate students has proven to be a productive endeavor. This approach has many beneficial aspects like the student-to-student relationresearch and the mentorship experience gained by the graduate student.  However, we should ask ourselves; what about students in small universities that lack a graduate program?  How could they benefit from a graduate mentorship program?  Could we link research institutions and their graduate programs to smaller ecology-based campuses?  As an approach to these questions, we developed the Humacao Natural Reserve Research Group, a PhD-mentored URE that links the graduate Department of Ecosystem Science and Management of Texas A&M University with the Department of Biology of the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao.  Currently, three students from the UPR-H are conducting individual ecological research in the Humacao Natural Reserve, a coastal reserve composed of different wetlands and the research site of the PhD student/mentor research project.  Research projects fall within the context of wetland ecology and sea level rise. 


Currently, the undergraduate projects include: 1) The use of digital recording systems to study amphibian biodiversity across the different ecosystems of the reserve, 2) The analysis of stable isotope (δ2H, δ18O) data to build a long-term isotope database of the different water sources of the HNR, and 3) The study of recent bioluminescent displays in the lagoons following an hydrological modification that caused saltwater intrusion in the HNR lagoon system.  UPR-H students have already produced two poster presentations at international meetings and an oral presentation to TAMU and UPR faculty at the Geospatial Sciences workshop in UPR Rio Piedras, April 2011.  As part of their research projects students are required to submit a written proposal and participate in small workshops aimed to develop research skills (scientific writing, quantitative analysis etc.).  According to the current state of the project and the projected outcome, the establishment of graduate mentor-based collaborations within different institutions might prove to be a useful approach to increase research opportunities for undergraduate students and maximize research efforts on a single site.

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