Redefining the Classroom

Student biologists present research results

Posted: April 30th, 2014

BEST IN SHOW – Lake Superior State University student biologists Brian Curell (l) and John Griffioen pose with best student poster awards for lab- and field-based projects, presented during the School of Biology Sciences' spring senior thesis research symposium. Curell, from Clifford, Mich., examined the effects of disturbance frequency on the structure of aquatic insect communities in coastal wetlands of the St. Mary's River. Griffioen, from Portage, Mich., studied the prevalence of parasites in dogs that were owned and in dogs that were living in a shelter to determine if there were differences in the number and types of parasitic infections. Presenting the award is Nancy Kirkpatrick, chair of the School of Biological Sciences. (LSSU/John Shibley))

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

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. - Instrumental versions of songs work better for short-term memory recall, and a new method of detecting and measuring toxic microbes in hospital patients shows promise. These are just two findings that 32 biology students presented during a recent senior thesis research symposium held at Lake Superior State University.

The senior thesis 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.

The senior thesis experience for students in the sciences, engineering, and several other majors, is one aspect of LSSU that greatly sets it apart from other undergraduate programs. This year's research topics reflect a wide range of topics that biology students study.

Robert Addington of Archbold, Ohio, investigated the feasibility of creating a citizen-science program to collect ages of whitetail deer. His results from a questionnaire provided to local sportsmen, coupled with background work he completed, showed that there is interest in the program. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources provided Addington with insight into creating a new program and system details. There is support for a new system but significant time and effort will be required before more sportsmen become committed participants.

Jennifer Alexander of Sanford, Mich., tested the use of salmonid primers to amplify the mitochondrial DNA of various species of fish in polymerase chain reactions. The primers used were found to be effective in amplifying the DNA of multiple types of fish salmonids, or hatchlings. This study is important because in order for DNA of young fish to be studied, it must first be amplified. Alexander's work found primers that able to be used for that process.

Biology thesis presenters, spring 2014
(Download a print version)

Chloe Balanda of Big Rapids, Mich., investigated anemia and whether different training regimens, specifically basketball vs. cross-country training, affected the percentage of anemia in female collegiate athletes. Her results showed that both the basketball team and cross country team had very high percentages of anemic athletes within each team (11 out of 15 and four out of six respectively), though differences between the two teams due to training regimens were not significant. This research is important because anemia can have detrimental effects on any female athlete who strives to reach her full potential. The results of this study can allow coaches to make necessary adjustments to training regiments and will help to determine if supplements (like iron) need to be added to athletes’ diets.

Ryan Baldwin of Blanchard, Mich., studied the effects of wave disturbances on aquatic insect communities in coastal wetlands of the St. Mary's River to determine if certain communities are better adapted to withstand future disturbances. His results showed that under simulated disturbances, insect communities are able to withstand future disturbances, regardless of the history of disturbances. This research is important because it provides a basis of what type of disturbance the communities can withstand.

Jason Bojczyk of Waterford, Mich., studied the migration of Long-Eared Owls in the evening at Whitefish Point and the factors influencing their migration. His results showed that Long-Eared Owls had an average departure time of 40 minutes after sunset, and prefer to migrate on nights without wind or light winds out of the southeast. This research is important because virtually no data exists on the migration of large numbers of Long-Eared Owls.

John Burman of Hudson, Wis., studied whether there is interbreeding between wolves and coyotes in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. His results showed that interbreeding has occurred in the region, but due to the limitations of the tests, could not show how often or if it is still occurring. This research is important when considered with the recent removal of grey wolves from the endangered species list and the possible dilution of their gene pool from coyotes.

Katelynn Cordero, of Hudson Mich., studied the habitat-use requirements of wolves in the Great Lakes Region. She gathered information to develop a Habitat Suitability Index, which is a prediction of the relationship between the wolf and its habitat requirements. This Habitat Suitability Index will be used as an aid in managing the wolf populations within the region.

Caitlin Cullen of Utica, Mich., investigated a procedure to detect a binary toxin produced by Clostridium difficile. The microbe is typically hospital-acquired and causes severe diarrheal disease that can be especially deadly to the elderly. Using the gene sequence for this toxin, Cullen investigated a procedure that might allow for easy detection of the toxin at low concentrations through quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). The protocol also allows for quantification of the toxin in a patient sample that can be used to fully-understand the toxin’s role in disease.

Brian Curell of Clifford, Mich., examined the effects of disturbance frequency due to wave and wakes on the structure of aquatic insect communities in coastal wetlands of the St. Mary's River. The study showed that the frequency of disturbances had no significant effect on abundance or number of species. This is important because it shows that aquatic invertebrate communities are adapted to high disturbance levels and the communities are unaffected by disturbances.

Sawyer Dawe of Mio, Mich., informed homeowners on the importance of a "defensible space" in the event of a wildfire. His public outreach showed property/homeowners the true meaning and importance of having a plan to deal with, or deflect, an approaching fire. Homeowners mentioned that they learned a lot of valuable information that could potentially save their property and home. This information is very important as wildfires are getting more intense every year and annually are destroying more and more homes. Homeowners need to be aware of how to make there home a safer place for themselves and safer for firefighters to protect in the event of a wildfire.

Harry Dittrich of Jackson, Mich., studied the changes in biodiversity of forests, wetlands, and lakes following the Duck Lake wildfire using one cubic foot samples. He found that forests suffer the greatest negative impact to biodiversity, but lakes and wetlands also suffered negative effects. This research will be useful to developing a better understanding of how wildfires affect ecosystems and manage implications.

Haleigh Edgar of Tecumseh, Mich., investigated the potential effects of reading on an E-book before bed. Her results showed that compared to paperback readers, E-book readers experienced delayed bedtimes, more sporadic brain wave frequencies, and decreased melatonin concentrations. This research is important because it supports the idea that the (LED)-backlit technology surrounding us may be causing negative effects to our bodies.

Kourtlyn Esslin of Pickford, Mich., studied parasites in equine herds of the Eastern Upper Peninsula to determine if there was a relationship between regular use and rotation of anthelmentics (treatments used to worm horses) and parasite numbers. Her results showed that regularly worming horses resulted in significantly lower presence and numbers of parasites. This research demonstrates the importance of regular worming regimens for horse health.

John Griffioen of Portage, Mich., compared the prevalence of parasites in dogs that were owned with ones in a shelter to determine if there were differences in the number and types of parasitic infections. His results showed that shelter animals were more heavily infected, and infected more often than dogs that live in a home and receive regular veterinary care. This research is important because domestic dogs could put their human caretakers at risk of acquiring certain parasites if they were infected.

Jacob Harm of Washington, Mich., conducted a survey of parasites in gray wolves in Michigan's Eastern Upper Peninsula. His results were compared to three similar studies conducted in the area. He found that areas where wolves had been locally extinct showed lower parasite densities than areas that had sustainable wolf populations. This study is important because it can help to understand parasite-host ecology.

Kevin Hinterman of Midland, Mich., investigated the fish community in tributary mouths of Whitefish Bay, Lake Superior to determine diversity, abundances, and age distributions. His findings showed that tributary mouths host a very high diversity and abundance of both young of year and older fish. This research highlights the importance of tributary mouths to the fish community and the potential detrimental effects on fish populations if these areas are not preserved.

Tressa Hubbard of Harrison, Mich., developed and distributed a survey to evaluate whether wolf-human interactions and the perceived risk associated with interactions influence public opinion on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove the western Great Lakes gray wolf population from the Endangered Species Act. In doing her research, she found that 50% of the people who had felt wolves were a danger had no interactions with a wolf over the past two years, and only 24% of them had a negative encounter with a wolf over the past two years. This study is significant because it assists biologists in understanding public opinions of conservation and management of predator populations, as well as allowing them to see how much of an understanding the public has on the wolf population.

Tyler Jackson of Port Huron, Mich., examined the expression of two genes that are critical to an early life-stage and ocean entry in the native ranges of Atlantic and Coho Salmon in the Great Lakes. Findings of this study have optimized methods for further study of these genes in Great Lakes salmon, and suggest that saltwater-specific genes are expressed in minute concentrations in both species in the Great Lakes.

Brittany Litchard of Cheboygan, Mich., investigated the presence of bacteria and their resistance to common antibiotics in powdered infant formula. Her results showed that bacteria were present in all four brands of powdered infant formula tested, and each bacterial colony showed resistance to at least one antibiotic. This research is important because it indicates that further testing may be needed to determine if pathogenic bacteria are present.

Joe Luttrell of Port Huron, Mich., studied the invasive Round Goby to see if there was relationship between their densities and habitat type. Results indicated preferred habitats, and also displayed sites still dominated by the native Logperch. This research is important for habitat restoration efforts, which may try to prevent the spread of the Round Goby and protect native species by providing a haven for their natural reproduction.

Daniel Mockler of LaPorte, Ind., studied the transportation of energy and nutrients from tributaries to near shore bay areas of Whitefish Bay, Lake Superior to determine if early life stage whitefish are utilizing these resources and if so, where they are taking them up in the water column. His results showed that whitefish are in fact utilizing these tributary resources in the nursing grounds of the near shore areas, primarily at the bottom of the water column. Understanding tributary and near shore energy and nutrient sources to whitefish can direct management efforts by identifying habitats and processes that are pertinent to whitefish recruitment and growth.

Joseph Oberski from Ida, Mich., compared the growth rate of ring-necked pheasant between two different commercial pheasant feeds and a natural diet. He did find a significant difference that contradicted what was originally expected. This study could help people that raise pheasant, both personally and commercially, to produce the best possible product.

Nicholas O’Neil of Brooklyn, Mich., investigated the relationship between the presence of Pacific salmon and wildlife behavior to determine if Michigan wildlife has begun to adapt to the presence of salmon carcasses along rivers. His findings suggest that wildlife along rivers with a salmon run may be anticipating the reoccurrence of this food source and taking advantage of it as an annual source of nutrition. This research is important because it supports the integration of an introduced species into Michigan’s wildlife ecosystems and management considerations.

Rusty Richardson of Dimondale, Mich., studied wild turkey winter roosting habits during extreme winter temperatures. His results showed that when a constant food source is available, roosting habits do not change regardless of temperature. This research is important to agencies looking to transplant turkeys north of their natural range in regions where severe winter weather is possible.

Nichol Sanabria of Kincheloe, Mich., studied the effects of modern music on short-term memory recall in college students by examining how different versions of the same song affected recall of lists of words. Her researched showed that there was a significant improvement in recall with instrumental versions versus with English lyrics. The importance of this research was to show that there were several factors that affected how music influenced short-term memory.

Abigail Schafer of Pewamo, Mich., studied the effects of season length on harvest rates of Canada geese in Michigan using 2003-13 band recovery data from the United States Geological Survey. Her results showed that there was a trend in total goose returns and in goose returns per day; however, there was not a significant effect of season length on harvest rates of Canada geese in Michigan for the 2012-2013 hunting season. This research is important because it helps the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the United States Fish and Wildlife Society determine that there needs to be more management efforts put into effect to help reduce the growing population of Canada geese in Michigan.

Renee Schlak of Millersburg, Mich., assessed the educational outreach shortfalls within the Great Lakes Piping Plover conservation program. She created educational materials to supplement public misunderstanding of the Piping Plover Conservation Program. Renee worked closely with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to create a usable PowerPoint presentation, poster, and pocket field guide to facilitate increased public understanding of the Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Program.

Trisha Send of Suttons Bay, Mich., studied the effectiveness of four fungicides to determine if they were all needed to prevent a common fungal disease affecting sweet cherries. Her results showed that not all of the fungicides were needed in inhibiting American Brown Rot. These findings are important because cherry famers can limit their exposure to the fungicides and also save money.

Shelby Stempky of Cheboygan, Mich., compared the killing ability of the complement systems of the Atlantic salmon (Salmosalar) and human beings (Homo Sapiens) to see their affects on gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. The bacteria in the human blood serum had a survival percentage of 19.19% for Staphylococcus epidermidis and 22.42% for Escherichia coli. The survival rate of both types of bacteria in Atlantic salmon exceeded the 100% survival rate set by the control data. We can conclude the human blood serum killed the bacteria more effectively and the Atlantic salmon serum displayed resistance towards the complement at 37°C.

Kaitlyn Stoltzfus of Muskegon, Mich., investigated the public interest in participating in a project designed to reduce the amount of trash by a local water supply in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. She used various outreach efforts in coordination with the Chippewa/Luce/Mackinac Conservation District to implement a cleanup event and encourage volunteer participation. This project served to reduce the gap in communication and understanding between the science community and the general public while eliminating some of the waste entering the local water supply.

Emily Wonser of Erie, Mich., studied the feeding rates and diet of Purple Martin nestlings, in the Monroe County area. Purple Martins are aerial insectivores that migrate from South America to North America to breed over the summer months. Motion sensor cameras were used to capture footage of parents visiting a nesting compartment. Wonser found that the survival of Purple Martin nestlings was dependent on the diet they received before fledging. She identified dragonflies as an important food item to older nestlings. Her methods also demonstrated effective use of video for monitoring nesting of this species.

Josh Zuber of Montrose, Mich., studied the effects of river discharge on the condition of smallmouth bass in the Flint River. Preliminary results show an increase in lengths and weights of the fish as they age with no sign of poor health. This is important because the Flint River is popular among fisherman during the fishing season.

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.