Bill Nye the Science Guy and Reptiles

Be on the lookout for "wild reptile parties." Haha.

Review: "Vernal Pools: Natural History and Conservation"

"Vernal Pools: Natural History and Conservation" by Elizabeth A. Colburn is by far the most comprehensive and easy-to-understand account of the worlds's vernal pools.

What are vernal pools, you ask? Vernal pools or ponds are seasonal pools of water characterized by completely drying up seasonally. Filling up with early spring rains, snow melt, or ground water, most vernal pools dry up with summer heat.

Why care? Due to completely drying out seasonally, vernal pools are distinctly devoid of any fish species. Fish are common predators for many plants and animals, and when fish are absent, certain fauna are able to dominate. My interest is obviously centered around the fantastic breeding opportunities vernal pools offer amphibians. Because most amphibians (frogs, salamanders, newts, etc...) must lay their eggs in fresh water, lakes with fish who would eat the eggs just don't cut it. Instead, vernal pools or similar pools of water provide the stability and protection necessary for eggs to develop into tadpoles, and eventually adults.

VP methodically devotes reasonable amounts of text to each aspect of vernal pools based on their importance to the ecosystem. This was a particularly important point to me, showing Colburn's successful attempts to reduce her innate authorial biases.

This book has chapters on the following topics: Introduction to Vernal Pools; Hydrology; Vernal Pools in the Landscape: Origins, Landscape Positions, and Habitat Characteristics; Bacteria, Protists, Algae, and Fungi; Vegetation; Life History Strategies of Pool Animals, Non-Arthropod Invertebrates; Crustaceans; Insects; Water Mites and Miscellaneous Other Arthropods; Amphibians; Reptiles, Birds, and Mammals; Energy Flow, Seasonal Cycles, and Variations in Community Composition; Protecting Vernal Pools; and a nice Afterword.

Overall: 5/5 - Great and current science writing.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan


Retrieved from: TGIF: Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan

Research Bit/Field Trip - UNDERC-East


Talk about things I'm thankful for...

For the past 10 weeks of this summer, I've been trekking around night and day through the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center (UNDERC-East).

My reason for making the 1,500-mile journey by train and van was a program aimed at training the ecological researchers of tomorrow. Five concentrated module weeks focus on Mammalogy and Ornithology (study of birds), Aquatic Ecology, Forest Ecology (silviculture), Aquatic Ecology, and Herpetology (sweet!)

In addition to these focused module weeks, each of 24 college students (myself included) completed an original research project using the generous facilities and wildlife provided by the station (akin to an REU).

10 weeks of ecological research in the northern hardwoods taught me a great deal about ecology, physiology, and animal behavior. More importantly, however, was a practical glimpse at the research process in action. I may comment on it further in another post, but this experience gave me the insight necessary to determine that I will pursue a Ph.D. in some topic of behavioral ecology. That insight is something unable to be taught effectively in a classroom setting, and I am thankful for it.

I recommend viewing their intuitive website for a more in-depth view of the aims, history, and research of this wonderful ecological research site.

A future post will more fully explain my successful research project conducted at UNDERC-East.

Now for some pictures (image names give a brief descriptor):

Research Bit - Anuran Call Surveys

Now for one of my favorite things about being a student at SU - anuran call survey research!

What are anurans, you ask? Anurans are frogs, all in the order Anura. Toads, which are just specialized frogs, are also in this order.

Along with SU student Giulia Giuffre, Dr. Pierce and I conducted NAAMP (North American Amphibian Monitoring Program) surveys at 40 sites in central Texas. Once a week, we chugged away to rural central Texas and recorded frog calls using a NAAMP protocol. To practice for field work, we quizzed ourselves weekly using an online NAAMP frog quiz. In total, we trained ourselves to be able to identify the male breeding advertisement calls of 41 species of frogs.

My project, titled "Call Latencies and Breeding Call Detection Ranges of Anurans in Central Texas," contributed to the scientific community's knowledge of the dates during which anurans in central Texas call. Additionally, my project was the first paper that analyzed a potentially useful correlate easily obtained during NAAMP surveys - call latency. We defined call latency as the time in seconds each species was heard after the start of an anuran call survey. Although we were not able to correlate call latency with air temperature, our future research may be able to find a biotic or abiotic factor that influences this new measure.

My independent research with Dr. Ben Pierce has convinced me that a professional career in herpetology is not only possible, but hugely rewarding! In case you haven't gotten the memo, herpetology is the scientific study reptiles and amphibians. Herpetology is an exciting field of research, especially because of the diverse ways in which it can be approached. Population genetics, vertebrate morphology, behavioral neuroscience, and natural history are popular topics using reptiles or amphibians as model organisms. More on that later, though. :)

If you would like a copy of my paper, email me at halla(at)

Field Trip - Baylor Aquatic Research Center

Field trip time!

This past April, Dr. Romi Burks took those interested (mostly SU Animal Behavior Society folk) to see the Lake Waco Wetlands.

After meeting up with a grad student working on the BEAR (Baylor Experimental Aquatic Research), Dr. Burks showed us first hand the invertebrate community living in a natural central Texas wetlands.

Highlights of the trip were:
1) Ecological learning experience.
2) Seeing a garter snake in the water (couldn't get a picture, unfortunately).
3) Spending time with fellow ecology students.
4) Just some great time off from school.

Here are a few pictures:

Research Bit - Rat Race

Sharing with you today some of the research I did in the past year.

In coordination with Dr. Fay Guarraci's psychology research methods course, I helped run both a correlational experiment, "The Flirty Flirts: The Relationship between Proceptive Behaviors and Time Spent with a Male Rat," and a drug manipulation experiment, "Specific Effects of Morphine on Sexual Behavior in Female Rats."

Dr. Guarraci's behavioral neuroscience lab uses female Long-Evans rats (Rattus norvegicus) as a model organism for measuring the effects of drugs of abuse on female sexual behavior. Past experiments in her lab have researched alcohol, methamphetamine, and caffeine, amongst other things.

Our task as undergrads was to develop and carry out an experiment in behavioral neuroscience using her rats. We decided on morphine sulfate, a commonly used drug of abuse in humans. We found that female rats injected with an small, acute (one time) dose of morphine significantly reduced their display of proceptive behaviors. Proceptive behaviors are sexual solicitations female rats use to excite male rats into "the mood," such as hopping, ear wiggling, and occasionally female mounting.

Additionally, our correlation experiment found that female rat time spent with a male rat is significantly positively correlated with the female rat's display of proceptive behaviors.

No previously published literature had explicitly verified either of these findings, which was hugely gratifying.

Overall, the experimental skill set gleaned from Dr. Guarraci's rat lab encouraged me to pursue an exiting and important career in animal research.

If you would like a copy of either paper, email me at halla(at)

Field Trip - To the Ausin Zoo!


In early March 2009, Dr. Kevin Woo took his animal behavior class and anyone interested to the Austin Zoo. What a great time!

The premise for the field trip was to test constructed animal stimulation projects his class had constructed. Although I was not in his class, I joined in watching a black bear fiddle with their weave basket and various other assundry.

My heartthrob order of animals, Testudines, were in full bloom. They have so many tortoises and turtles!

Now for some pictures:

Review - "Origin of Species"

You know the spiel.

Charles Darwin sailed the seas aboard the HMS Beagle on an historic journey. The face of science was forever changed when he and Alfred Wallace independently developed their theories of evolution by natural selection. However, with the publication of 'Origin,' Darwin got the foot in the door necessary to inseparably tie his name with the theory of evolution.

First things first: this book is important.

Now that that's out of the way, how does it read? 'Origin' is difficult. You can hear Darwin stretching his arms out wide and grasping for the perfect way to explain the incompleteness of the fossil record, evolution by natural selection, or what have you. On the whole, you can only read 'Origin' ten, rarely more than twenty, pages at a time.

'Origin' is, of course, entirely historical by now. Reading 'Origin,' the reader knows that Darwin had no knowledge of basic Mendelian genetics and can be impressed with his analysis of certain patterns.

I recommend this book to someone looking for something to think about (with sufficient free time), any student of biology etc., or anyone who feels they have an understanding of the scientific theory of evolution.

Overall: 4/5 (hard to read, but thought-provoking)

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