Getting their feet wet is all part of the job for Curtis Stratmoen and Tim Nelner. The two undergrad summer research students spend most of their days out in the field at wetland areas in Miquelon Lake and agriculture sites as part of a massive biodiversity study for Augustana Campus professors, Glynnis Hood, Environmental Science, and Dave (Doc) Larson, Biology.
“We’re basically doing a biodiversity inventory,” says Nelner, who graduated earlier this year. “We’ve done invertebrate sampling. We’ve done bird surveys. We’ve done basic GIS mapping. We’ve started doing a vegetation survey.” The list goes on.
The summer field work Nelner and Stratmoen are conducting gives their professors the ability to do a comparison of various biodiversity indices in protected areas, like Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, and agricultural sites. “This is something that Miquelon Lake and the Beaver Hills Initiative are both in need of and really interested in,” explains Hood. “The work of these students is invaluable. It’s filling in data gaps and setting up a record for long-term research.”
Sometimes, getting that data can be a challenge. “We originally wanted to visit 10 agriculture sites as part of the study but with the drought we had to modify the project because some of them have dried up. You take what mother nature throws at you.” says Nelner.
Nelner is accustomed to the challenges of mother nature. As part of the practicum course offered by Hood he spent many winter days outside checking beaver lodges for signs of activity. “We tried to confirm whether beavers were present or not by looking for food caches, fresh mud on the lodges, any kind of indication.”
For Stratmoen, a 4th year Environmental Science student, it’s another day in the office, “I love being outside and doing different things. This is my fourth summer doing this kind of work, first with federal and provincial governments and now at Augustana. The lab work can get kind of monotonous but it’s all part of it.” The opportunity to work on such a project also sets Stratmoen, who wants to pursue habitat management, on the right track.
“My favourite thing we’ve done so far was the amphibian study,” says Stratmoen. “We went out at night and waited until they started calling. You opened up your ears until you decided you heard them all and then you wrote down how many there were and the relative density.”
Experiences like that are what Larson has always strived to provide students, “Part of what I do is getting undergrads into the field, whether it’s in Costa Rica or Alberta. When students are out in the field, they get that ‘aha’ moment where everything connects and meshes together.”
Creating undergrad research opportunities gives students the experience and skill-sets they need but it also fits into a larger picture. “We’ve built a great relationship with Miquelon Lake through this,” says Hood. “In the past there have only been interpreters, rangers, and the odd graduate student who has collected data. Now, with the students as a resource, we’re able to provide them with a fairly comprehensive inventory of what’s in the park.”
Being a part of study like this is important to Nelner and Stratmoen, who gain experience and field skills. It’s the time spent in small boats on a pond or trudging through mud to take samples, however, that will be remembered most.