About me: I am a junior in the undergraduate biology program with general interests in
ecology and organismic biology. I am conducting independent research in the Adler lab during Spring 2008.
'The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new
discoveries, is not "Eureka!" ("I found it!") but rather "hmm....that's
-- Isaac Asimov
Mr. Edison, please tell me what laboratory rules
you want me to observe.
Hell, there ain't no rules around here! We're
trying to accomplish something!
--Martin Andre Rosanoff
_Harper's_ [September 1932], "Edison in His Laboratory"
Abstract of Research Project:
Plants are susceptible to damage by both herbivores and pathogens, each of which may separately elicit some physical or chemical response
by the plant. These responses defend the plant against the pathogen or herbivore, but a growing number of studies have found that
defenses against pathogens may also affect herbivores. My study examines whether the defensive responses of blueberry plants to a
pathogen may simultaneously affect its insect herbivores.
Blueberry plants are susceptible to infection by the fungus Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi. The fungus overwinters in diseased berries
of the previous season, known as mummyberries, which fall to the ground. In the spring, apothecia grow from the mummies and produce
ascospores, which are carried by the wind and infect the budding leaves and shoots of blueberry plants. The fungus then produces a
second round of spores, called conidia. Pollinators, attracted by the sugars on the blighted leaves, carry these spores to the flowers,
where the spores germinate and cause the growth of infected berries. Once the berries, pink with fungus instead of blue, are filled
with its growth, they drop to the ground to overwinter.
I am working with Holly Baltzer to investigate how blueberry plants respond to the fungal pathogen. We have cuttings of two
blueberry species, highbush and lowbush blueberry, growing in pots in the greenhouse, and all are labeled as either “control” or
“infected.” Almost every day we check the plants for emerging leaves, and those leaf buds on the control plants are treated with
water, and those on the infected plants are treated with a solution of fungal spores in water.
Once the leaves are done growing, I plan to take some leaves from the control and infected plants and feed them to caterpillars
to see whether there is a differential feeding pattern. This will help us to determine whether there might be some chemical changes
expressed in the blueberry plants as a result of fungal infection, which may in turn affect the feeding behavior of herbivores.
I am currently in the process of ordering eggs and third instar larvae for a test run to decide exactly how I will set up my experiment. I need to decide exactly what species and instar I will use (ie, will I use them just as they hatch, or after they have grown for a while?), as well as how many leaves I will feed them, how long to run each experiment, and how the caterpillars perform in the growth chamber conditions. Once I work out the specifics on this test run, I can then set up Petri dishes with the proper caterpillars, amount of leaves, and conditions to make my experiment effective and efficient.
Notes from Summer REU at Konza Prairie:
So this summer, tired of my hidden life in the Northeast and needing some more excitement, I decided to look where the storms are rougher,
the tornados are more horrific, and my annual chances of survival might be slightly lower. Naturally, I chose an extremely enviable 10-week
internship located in Manhattan, Kansas. Of course, when I got here, I found out that they have not had a tornado in these parts for 80 years,
but that didn't stop me and some of the other 8 interns housed in this off-campus frat house from sitting around a table, sipping tea, chatting,
and watching a storm practically rip all the foliage off the trees while lightning flashes and cannon thunder went off every other second.
When shows like that are over, we go to bed, because this program is pretty intense.
All of us interns work with professors and/or graduate students here at Kansas State University on their projects, but the cool thing is that these
projects are based out on a long-term research site in the beautiful Flint Hills, Konza Prairie. It's a huge area of native tallgrass prairie, separated
into different treatment areas. These areas are subject to one or a combination of annual burning, burning every two, four, or twenty years, native
grazers (that would be BISON!!), cattle grazing, or nothing at all. All of the projects contribute to an investigation of how burning, grazing, and
climactic variability impact the systems and processes that go on in the prairie. Now this area is absolutely GORGEOUS, and you have every right to
start feeling dissatisfied with your backyard lawn chair and robins and worms and dandelions.
This summer I also decided that cute furry rabbits or abundant white-tailed deer (or not abundant, depending on the state of your garden plants) or fun
friendly dolphins just wouldn't cut it for me in this high-risk environment. So, what else would I choose, but snakes?
This is the third year that Page, my graduate mentor, has been studying snakes and the grassland birds on the site and how they use different areas on
Konza, as well as the interaction between the snake predators and the bird prey. This entails nest searching (the birds nest on the ground), nest
monitoring, snake searching, snake monitoring, and vegetation measurements.
I only just started four days ago, but they sure didn't waste any time on introductions or illusional talk. I get up at 5:30, meet Page and Jennifer,
her hired tech, at 6:30, get out to Konza at 7am, and spend the first three hours hiking up and down gorgeous hills of prairie grass and into shrubby
draws, checking coverboards for snakes we might find underneath. Sometimes the bison decide that they want to do their own thing so they go and spread
out all over a coverboard area and grunt and snort and look macho and make us take the long way around. But the bison herds are something to see, as are
the views of the differences in vegetation between the treatment areas. Areas that aren't burned as frequently have noticeably greater numbers of shrubs,
while the annual burns are much more green. Sometimes as we hike we see wild turkeys. There are also Great Plains skinks and ring-necked snakes under
the coverboards, but once we found a common kingsnake! We're only checking the coverboards until we find one more black racer, and then we'll have twelve
snakes to radiotrack. Today we found a racer, but it was too small. However, I did get to try my hand at clipping the belly scales to mark it, and the
day before watched Page surgically implant a radio transmitter into the eleventh racer, which I was privileged to name with a name that had one
restriction: it had to begin with a U or a Z. We christened her Zoey. I also have finally seen the famous brown-headed cowbird, a brood parasite,
as well as it's big mean offspring crowding out the little lark sparrows in their nest in the grass- no longer the bird of the textbook and numerous
ecology papers, I have seen it!
After the coverboards, there are a variety of fun and games for me to experience. We can radio track snakes over hill and dale until we are exhausted,
we can play hide-and-go seek with the last radio transmitter (very entertaining, especially when you team up to trick the person with the gear by walking
in the opposite direction and hiding it under a rock), search for dickcissel nests, or practice vegetation measurements. The fun doesn't really end until
3 or 3:30 p.m. But the fun doesn't necessarily have to end, because if you drive the huge gigantic REU van (which I haven't yet; REU stands for
undergraduate research experience, the internship program), you can have even more fun by following the start-up directions written in black permanent
marker on the dashboard in front of the steering wheel. Something about pumping the gas pedal three times before turning the ignition half-way or of
I hope to keep you all updated at least every week, so you will hear the latest in snake research on Konza Prairie. Enjoy your summers!
Tornados schmornados... Who needs a real tornado when I can have all the hype without flying around in a swirling vortex of
hapless cows and haystacks? Last week several of us were sitting around the table trying to make the terrible decision of whether
to treat ourselves to on-campus ice cream, or go shopping for vital supplies, when a loud resonating siren echoed across the entire
campus, and probably throughout the whole city of Manhattan. Before we knew it, the winds had picked up, the sky got dark, and it had
already begun to rain. Vangie, the "house mom", promptly commanded us to seek shelter in the very large shower down the hallway,
where she stocked us with blankets and ordered us to cover our heads if we heard anything like smashing windows. Apparently, the
blaring siren call was a warning that tornados had touched down nearby and that there were signs of others, so everyone should take
shelter until the sirens stopped. Of course, you can't expect eight unruly interns to just sit there in a wet shower area with their
computers and bike helmets, so once the sirens stopped we exploded out of the bathroom in time to see all the rain and hail that shelled
down out of the sky! But that wasn't even the first hailstorm I got to see. Two days ago we were out hard at work on Konza when a
terrific hailstorm took out a lot of the gravel roads in some spots and swelled the rivers so they overflowed their banks, leaving a
ton of leafy carnage out on the roads for the next few days. Did I say I was seeking excitement?
As a matter of fact, we're having so much fun out here that we decided 7am wasn't early enough. So now I get up at 4:30 in order to be
out checking coverboards by 6, making my bedtime severely early. But it's definitely worth it, because there are some really
interesting creatures prowling around that I might not otherwise have seen. Last week Jennifer and I were walking around checking
coverboards when I saw something slithering at lightning speed through the grass. I called out "Garter snake!"-- but then stood there
with second thoughts while Jennifer yelled at me to catch it, because it looked a little weird. I immediately stepped on its tail and
as it wriggled to get free, Jennifer hurried over and said, "Hey! It's a glass lizard!" as she picked it up. This really cool animal
has the head of a lizard, but the body of a snake, so it doesn't have any legs! I got out my camera and she held it as it squirmed,
when all of a sudden she screamed and dropped the remaining half of the lizard while we stared in awe at the other half- the TAIL,
whipping around on the ground!
With bizarre creatures like that horsing around on the prairie, there's more than enough to entertain me while I'm racking up the
kilometers hunting for snakes. Well, not hunting- tracking. I am proud to say that last week I pitted my own radio smarts against
Zoey, Geronimo, Jasmine, Ivan, and Derwin, and found all five of them hiding in the rocks. Several days ago, I challenged myself to
the AWOL Oscar, and his compatriots Charlie, Stephanie, Tyrone, and Neil. They're sneaky, but with my 10 pounds of equipment plus my
backpack hanging all over me like a clothesrack, I think we'll keep an eye or two on them all summer.
Besides attending barbecues and figuring out the Farenheit temperatures from our Celsius readings during my spare time, there's also
other things to get done that I mentioned before. This includes really tedious nest searching, killing your eyes just staring in one
spot at an annoying female flirting with a male, just hoping she'll unwittingly lead you to her nest. The reward is great, however,
if you get to see the cute, fuzzy, little, adorable chicks (or eggs) in the nest. We also have some intermittent photosynthesis
measurements to take along transects through different areas of the prairie. But this past weekend I and my fellow REU students got
a break from our prairie work to go on a camping trip at Kanopolis State Park in Salina. Besides the fact that it was very very windy
and that it took us 2 hours to master the art of cooking turkey burgers with only a too slow grill and a flaring fire, it was a good
time to hike around in the small red rocky canyons and find scorpions, horned lizards, and racerunners (lizards). Not only did we
discover that the purple smears on our legs were not from eyeshadow that nobody owned, but from the flower pollen, but we also
discovered that beaver dams make the best bridges for tired and sweaty hikers seeking a shortcut to their water bottles.
Until next time,
It appears that I spoke too hastily about that tornado! Around the 13th of June, after I had strictly adhered to my 7:30pm bedtime,
I was roused around 10:30 by the tornado sirens and commotion in the hallway. Apparently tornados had touched down in Junction City
and were headed straight for Manhattan, and everyone was advised to take the necessary precautions. I was obviously distressed at the
fact that this little town had been outright named as marked for destruction, so I followed some of the girls into the shower where
they'd already put on their bike helmets and had covered the wet shower floor with blankets. Most of us were pretty nervous, but about
a half hour later Vangie came and told us it was all right to come out since the tornado had, as I understood, passed east of us. So I
went back to bed.
Imagine my surprise when the next morning I found that the tornado had, as a matter of fact, actually passed through campus, blowing out
windows, tearing off roofs, smashing cars, uprooting trees, and scattering foliage and debris and nails and glass all over parking lots.
After work that day, I rode around campus on my bike to see the damage: the tornado had come across at a diagonal from the opposite
corner of campus (and of town), but jumped just before it got to the fraternity house. One of the last buildings to get whacked was
just across the street from us! So, Manhattan does get tornados. Don't worry, everyone, I do seriously go and sit on a wet shower floor
if it means I will live longer...
Moving on to more pleasant things...
I am pleased to announce that I am fast becoming a master of the snake chase- except when I am outwitted by snakes who decide to do crazy
things like travel a few kilometers to other watersheds where it is complete nonsense to go and there is nothing for them there.
There's really no way to tell how long it will take to track them, since they aren't always in the same area, especially the male
racers, and sometimes it's really difficult to pick up a signal. But the most rewarding thing is when the animal, instead of being
hidden under a rock, is actually moving through the grass where I can see it!
Now don't ever try to tell me that superstitions about the summer solstice are nonsense, because I will never believe you. Page and I
decided that the full moon offered on June 18th would be a fabulous time to go night tracking, so equipped with headlamps and all of
our tracking equipment, we began tracking around 5:30 pm. After checking a few bird nests that we've found, we continued to track the
second snake of 10. Not only were we led on a wild goose chase searching for that bad boy, but we discovered that the cord connecting
the antenna to the receiver was broken so we weren't getting a signal when we really might have been. After hiking all the way back and
replacing the cord, we crossed a forest of poison ivy to where we finally found Tyrone not too far from where we had parked our blue
field van (fondly known as Beulah). We returned to the van around 9:45, hopped inside, and lo and behold she refused to start. Well
so there we were, at 10pm, sitting there under a cloudy sky in the dark with a broken car. I was certainly not about to quit, and true
to my field biologist position, I declared that if Page was going to call her friend to come pick us up, I was going to stay out and
track while Page went back to bring another vehicle to Konza. I don't know how I made such a crazy decision... must have been the
But I was sure glad I did, because as I tracked two snakes out on the open hillsides, the sky cleared and the full moon became completely
visible, illuminating the wide grassy hills and forest tops of the draws and eliminating the need for my headlamp. The barred owls
provided the background music until Page arrived and we continued to search for the rest of the snakes. Finally, to track Zoey,
we drove to a path that took us to where she'd been before. Page had this long stretch of path off which she could turn, and of
all that whole path, where does she choose to turn left, but at a spot where a jagged, stiff, dead, petrified stump stuck out of the
ground. Don't tell me that wasn't the Solstice.
And finally, I have now seen 2 of the 8 wonders of Kansas: the Cosmosphere, which is a big museum of the history of space exploration,
and the Salt Mines of Hutchinson, in which you have four minutes to "mine" your own salt (also known as walking over to a pile of salt
prepared for tourists and selecting your piece of choice). This weekend we'll be going on a camping trip to a third Wonder of Kansas:
Cheyenne Bottoms National Wildlife Refuge. Hopefully dinner will be more successful this time :)
Long time no message, everyone! I apologize, so many crazy things happen in Kansas when your schedule is packed...
Towards the end of June we spent a weekend at Cheyenne Bottoms National Wildlife Refuge in Great Bend, KS. This included an overnight
camping trip during which we had a more successful supper of tacos (my idea, do take note) and a look at more birds in two days than
I have seen in my entire life yet! And it also included the soundest night's sleep I have experienced in several weeks, which rests
heavily on the fact that I did NOT have to get up at 4:30 am the next day!
Several of us also participated in a night spotlighting excursion out at Konza one clear evening. The sky over Kansas is one amazing
dense canopy of stars that just blows my mind away! We saw several deer, a very large hawk moth, and also several birds that apparently
believe that the middle of the road is the safest place to bunk down for the night. We caught a morning dove this way, and Brett let us
hold it. I was hesitant, but then I was able to get a hold of it and it was so cool! Then I proceeded to give it to Daron, who was
also unsure of whether she wanted to hold it. She got her fingers on its neck, but then it started flapping its wings or something so
she screamed and let go and I had no idea what was going on or if the bird was attacking us so I started shrieking and let go of the
bird and it flew away. But the best part was when we caught a nighthawk! A nighthawk isn't a real hawk, but it's a smaller, very
beautiful bird with large eyes and a white band on each of its wings. It makes a noise like an airplane when it swoops down in the sky! Since Brett is studying these birds we were able to see him band it with a radiotag, take a blood sample, and take certain notes on its characteristics.
I am a pro now at tracking snakes, with one of my good days being 5 snakes in two hours. That doesn't mean that mishaps don't happen...
mishaps which are BY NO MEANS ever my fault. For instance, one time I could not locate either Oscar or Tyrone no matter where I went.
I was getting frustrated so I turned the car around and began scanning my GPS along the way for some points...and got sucked into a muddy
pit filled with water and blackflies and mud just as it was about to rain. I was so miserable, and I called Page and she came with
Jennifer, and they were laughing at me, and Page congratulated me on being the first person ever to give her cause to call Tom and his
By the way, if you think that Kansas doesn't have water, then you obviously have not experienced a day of canoeing on the wide,
refreshingly cool shallow Kansas river on a hot sunny day, lazily dragging yourself in the water along with the canoes that drift,
tied together, downstream in the warm sun with nobody in them because you are all playing around in the water. My my, you do miss out.
I regret to say that this may be the last big email that I will send to all of you as I wrap up this time in the Flint Hills...
It's CRUNCH TIME!! I've now embarked on long days that involve both the field and the computer lab, tedious data entry and laborious
brainwork. I'll probably continue to track snakes every other day, staying on top of my 5 snakes/2 hours speedwork, but I will need
to spend more time in the lab analyzing the data we've collected. All the REU students will be presenting our research at a symposium
on Friday, August 1st, and the following day I'll hop back on a plane to the tornado-less Northeast. Then, of course, I will be
autographing pictures and any other Kansas/Prairie/Snake- related items you so desire. It has been an amazing 8 weeks so far- beautiful
sunrises and sunsets, hot days, rewarding animal discoveries, treacherous night excursions (we did another night-tracking episode which
was not as eventful as the first, although the snakes were misbehaving a bit; and we also did a 4am tracking session!), and an
eye-opening experience of the prairie. Two more weeks to go! Page remarked that it's difficult to truly appreciate the tallgrass
prairie until you've actually worked on it, spent time on it, picked it apart and seen the good and the unsettling. If you go to a
scenic overlook, you just see grass, shrubs, some trees, rolling hills. But if you spend a summer hiking all over it, you see the
spectacular ecosystem that thrives here.
I don't know how I will cope with not rising at 4:30 am. Any suggestions?
If I don't email again, enjoy the rest of your summers!!!