Redefining the Classroom

Student biologists present research results

Posted: December 1st, 2012

WHITEFISH STORY – Lake Superior State University fisheries students Bill Bernier (left) and John Ransom skim the Pendills Creek steam bed for a census of what lives in its sediment. LSSU was working with Bay Mills Indian Community this past summer on a comprehensive study of whitefish in Whitefish Bay and ecosystems that support the fish. Ransom, from Traverse City, Mich., was among a group of seniors in Lake Superior State University's Dept. of Biological Sciences who presented results of thesis research during a symposium held Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Bernier, from Sault, Mich., is slated to present his results this spring. (LSSU/John Shibley)

A print-resolution photo that runs with this caption can be found by clicking here.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. -- Starving a specialized bacteria while bathing it in UV light makes it produce more biodegradable plastic, and a DNA primer might prove clinically useful in flagging genetic mutations that lead to certain diseases. These are just two findings that Lake Superior State University biology students shared during a senior research project symposium Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

A senior thesis research project is the capstone experience for all students in the School of Biological Sciences at LSSU. Students choose a topic, design a study, collect and analyze the data, write a scientific paper and present the information to the university community and interested members of the public. Projects typically take an entire year for the students to design and complete, and often address practical issues of local biological and environmental concerns.

Student projects and their hometowns include:

Sean Allen of Marysville, Mich., studied the effects of temperature on the growth of Atlantic salmon during the incubation and sac fry life stages. His research used water temperatures of 8°C, 6°C, 4°C, along with water from the St. Mary’s river that varied in ambient temperature. Allen found that higher temperatures yielded faster hatching times, while sac fry grew best at 4°C.

Christopher Beyett of Bay City, Mich., studied feeding behavior in adult Piping Plovers in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin. His results showed that during the 2010, 2011 and 2012 field seasons, Piping Plovers exhibited peak feeding behavior during the months of June and July. When compared to expected behavior taken from past studies, the birds pushed their feeding back from May to June. This was most likely due to changing weather patterns throughout the archipelago.

Monica Brandt of Hillman, Mich., interned with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) during their Operation Windbreak. Operation Windbreak is a multi-agency effort that installs vegetative windbreaks along local highways to prevent the blowing and drifting of snow. Brandt assessed success rates on previously planted sites. She concludes that a majority of the sites will need future maintenance work, including weed control and the replanting of selected sections. Brandt’s study is important in developing a more effective method of monitoring vegetation survivability.

Hannah Connor of Brighton, Mich., estimated the prevalence of the cat parasite Toxoplasma gondii in Chippewa County by testing the cats at a local animal shelter. Humans can contract this parasite from contaminated litter boxes. People with weakened immune symptoms can suffer brain inflammation and vision problems. If a pregnant woman becomes infected, it can be transferred to the child and result in birth defects. Her study shows that approximately one in three cats are infected with this parasite. She also finds that there is no major difference in the infection rate between previously owned and stray cats.

Brittany Cousino of Monroe, Mich., assessed three primary sources of drinking water near Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., for water quality and inhibition of plaque development on teeth. Her results showed that fluoride plays an active role in the inhibition of plaque on developing teeth. She also found that drinking water containing fluoride, such as municipal water, showed the most plaque inhibition. This research is relevant to public health ramifications because bottled water – usually not fluorinated - is being consumed more often due to a perception of its purity over tap water.

Jennifer Deater of Mancelona, Mich., studied the how common ravens react to predator and prey distress calls. She did this by testing the two different calls in the Hiawatha National Forest west of the Sault. Ravens and coyotes responded to both recordings. Her results show that scavengers use both calls to locate possible food sources, but there was not enough data to conclude whether one was preferred over the other. Research like this helps biologists gain a better understanding of interspecies behavior.

Dana Jo DePlonty of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., looked at the availability of zooplankton as a food source for larval walleye in Black Lake. Walleye population in Black Lake is low, with very little natural reproduction. Could it be the lake doesn't contain enough plankton? DePlonty used a zooplankton net to collect samples and calculate densities during the summer of 2011. Her results show that Black Lake’s zooplankton densities are adequate to support larval walleye population. Something else is affecting the lake's underproduction of Walleye.

Glenn Galle of Cedar Springs, Mich., investigated the antifungal effects of five common kitchen spices to determine if they could possibly stop fungal growth on food products and thus prevent food waste. His study found that all five of the spices tested had antifungal effects on yeast, but that only a couple of spices affected mold. Adding spices to a variety of foods may prevent billions of dollars in food loss.

John Kilponen of Ann Arbor, Mich., studied how removing striped maple (Acer Pennsylvanicum) tree affects habitat use by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) on Hiawatha Sportsman’s Club land. His results show that removing undesirable tree species creates access to habitat previously inaccessible to white-tailed deer. Also, different approaches to controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of a forest can alter the regrowth of deer habitats. This research is important for people who want to manage land for both forestry practices and wildlife habitat.

Tyler Lorenzo of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., successfully evaluated a DNA "primer" that reveals genetic mutations in the mitochondria of human cells. The primer will let future LSSU students see if there is a correlation between two distinct genetic mutations - ND-1 and MTHFR mutations - in people. ND-1 mutations are known to cause a wide variety of diseases that might be prevented with further study.

Mark Martin Custer, Mich., assessed whether alterations made by beavers to Pendills Creek influenced river otter habitat selection. The study found no relationship. Martin's data will now be used to compare otter habitats where there are beaver alterations (dams, lodges, etc.) and where there are not.

Kathryn Mulka of Utica, Mich., studied bacteria that naturally produce a type of biodegradable plastic called poly 3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB). Using the bacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides, Mulka showed that cells placed under the stress of both starvation and ultraviolet light increase their plastic production a three fold. Her research is important because understanding how to induce PHB synthesis in bacteria might create a cheaper and more efficient way to manufacture biodegradable plastic.

Charolette Niezgoda of Alpena, Mich., examined whether specific strains of Staphylococcus present on Lake Superior State University’s campus preferred men to women. Her results show that Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermis show no preference. She also tested whether S. aureus - a methicillin-resistant "superbug" - was more vulnerable to specific types of beta-lactam antibiotics. While no type is more effective, using beta-lactam antibiotics in general has a significant impact. Niezgoda's results could help Lake Superior State University reduce the likelihood of a large spread of infection by increasing knowledge of the bacteria and its resistance mechanisms.

John Ransom of Traverse City, Mich., assessed the effects of non-native trout and salmon on native stream fish communities after a dam was removed in four Great Lakes tributaries. His results showed that within five years of a dam removal, non-native salmon make up a large proportion of the fish community upstream of the removed dam. Native brook trout populations decreased dramatically upstream of the removed dam, and remain low in downstream reaches. Ransom's study suggests that dams may protect native fishes from the invasion of non-native species.

Jared Stephen of Burton, Mich., analyzed whether yellow perch and rainbow trout compete for food in Duke’s Lake, Chippewa County, Mich. His results indicate that the fish consume the same prey, and the potential for competition between rainbow trout and yellow perch is extremely high. Because Duke’s Lake is stocked with rainbow trout, the study demonstrates that the trout fishery may benefit from changes in lake-specific yellow perch regulations or the possible removal of a portion of the yellow perch population.

Amanda Taylor of Byron Center, Mich., coordinated a large tagged monarch butterfly release at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids. By tagging monarchs it is possible to track them along migration routes and compare data from the release with known migration data to help determine what is affecting the monarch population. Her internship at Michigan Butterflies also allowed her to educate the public about monarch butterflies, the decline of the species, and steps that would help keep the monarch population flourishing.

Stefan Tucker of Belmont, Mich., studied a small population of Lake Sturgeon, a threatened species in the St. Mary’s River. Little is known about the reproductive success of Lake Sturgeon within the St. Mary’s, and therefore their population may be vulnerable to future threats. This project was the first attempt to capture larval Lake Sturgeon and document natural reproduction using egg mats and larval drift nets. Reproduction of Lake Sturgeon in the St. Mary’s River was not confirmed, but the level of adult sturgeon activity demonstrates the need for further research.

Jackie Wolfinger of Grass Lake, Mich., studied the effectiveness of brochures for public outreach. Eastern Upper Peninsula anglers were surveyed on their knowledge of the use of certified disease-free bait after reading an educational brochure on the subject. Results showed that when a brochure is considered effective, it is also considered informative and easy to read and understand. Continued research on the effectiveness of brochures is important, because brochures are expensive to produce. Money spent on brochures could be used on other methods of outreach if brochures are ineffective at educating the public.

Run a Web search for "LSSU biology" for more about studying biology at LSSU.


CONTACTS: John Shibley, e-mail, 906-635-2314; Tom Pink, e-mail, 635-2315; Prof. Jun Li, biology senior thesis coordinator, e-mail, 635-2094.