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Recent or ongoing special projects include:
University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras: "Puerto Rico, a tropical paradise of extreme environments: an introduction to cave ecology"
Excerpt by Manuel Sanfiorenzo, Elvia Meléndez-Ackerman and Miriam Toro (AKKA SEEDS Special Project 2007 - UPR RP).
Cave ecology in Puerto Rico is a field of study with many gaps of scientific knowledge. Puerto Rico is an ideal site for cave ecology research because of the immense amount of cave systems that exist in the island and the ease of access to most of them. The main goal of this project was to introduce students to the field of cave ecology through training workshops and field trips. Through these activities AKKA has been able to train over 30 students in the science of speleology, cave risk management, vertical rope work, and digital documentation (still and video) with the help of a multidisciplinary team of experts associated to the University of Puerto Rico. Field work included visits to nine different caves. One important product this project will be the production of an educational documentary entitled “Cave Biology” that addresses the need for conservation and more in-depth study of cave ecosystems especially within the island of Puerto Rico. The documentary highlights the variety of geological formations and biota found within different cave systems across an illumination gradient that starts at the entrance of caves (see Figs 1-4).
Figs. 1 – 2. Sorbetos cave (Straws cave). Arecibo, Puerto Rico Photos by: Miriam Toro Rosario. This is one of the most incredible in Puerto Rico and one that presents several formations including curtains, straws, stalagmites and stalactites. Thousands of straw-like formations projecting from the ceiling give this cave its Spanish name. These peculiar formations are caused by the dissolution of pure calcium carbonate. This site is currently closed to the public as strategic measure to preserve these rare formations from random vandalism.
Figs. 3 – 4. Pérdida cave, Utuado, Puerto Rico. Photos by FIEKP (Fundación de Investigaciones Espeleológicas del Karso Puertorriqueño). Located in the Cayuco neighborhood, this cave appears to be associated to the Tanamá subterranean water system. Underground rivers lead to dynamic interactions between biotic and abiotic elements within this system which are constantly modified along with the river fluctuations that occur throughout the year. This large system covers an area of 1.5 Km making it a challenging one to speleologists.
Voice over of the final DVD version is in progress. Dissemination plans for this video are being formalized and will include but will not be limited to AKKA’s web page, elementary public school science clubs and education centers. Overall, dissemination activities are aimed at increasing local awareness of these unique habitats with extreme environments and stimulate student interest cave ecology research.
Since 1988, Professor Fred Janzen (Iowa State University) has researched reptile ecology on and around an island in the Mississippi River, affectionately known as Turtle Camp. These activities primarily take place annually from mid-May to the end of June, during which time Fred and his students live and work on the island. We used Turtle Camp, and the research activities that take place there, as a framework on which to build the Turtle Camp Research and Education in Ecology (TREE) program in 2007 and 2008 with support from the National Science Foundation and ESA SEEDS. The TREE program provided primarily underserved high school students with an opportunity to conduct ecological research on organisms in their natural environments, learn key ecological concepts, discuss their work with the public and the scientific community, and participate in multilevel reciprocal mentoring. While at Turtle Camp, the TREE students conducted independent research, but also contributed to the study of painted turtle nesting ecology, the primary ongoing research project at Turtle Camp. The students helped locate nesting turtles, monitored nesting progress, measured and marked turtles, assisted with nest excavations, weighed eggs, measured and mapped the locations of nests, and helped with record keeping. In mid-September the TREE students returned to Turtle Camp to relocate nests and unearth hatchling turtles. TREE students also communicated daily with the public regarding their research via impromptu interactions at Turtle Camp and through planned presentations to local children. Some TREE students prepared posters about their research and presented them at local or national scientific meetings, including ESA 2008. While challenging, this program has been highly successful and we intend to continue it so long as funds remain available. Interest from prospective high school and undergraduate participants is certainly growing, with inquiries from Puerto Rico to San Diego and various points in between!
This past fall students in Environmental Studies course completed research into the history of Horse Gulch and the policies and laws that will govern future use and potential development. Their final presentation in January 2009 attracted over fifty people and spurred several energetic discussions. Afterwards, a local county commissioner asked the students to present to the county board of supervisors. The class was so successful that Dr. Bradley Clark, the instructor, has talked about making next course around Horse Gulch as well.
We have also created a Horse Gulch webpage and blog to provide a home for comments, ideas, and suggestions about Horse Gulch as well as an events calendar. http://www.fortlewis.edu/community_culture/envcenter_projects/horsegulch.aspx
Clayton State University: "Integrated Ecology Education: An Evaluation of the Jesters Creek Restoration Project"
Florida A&M University: "Ecology & Environmental Engagement: Primary and Post-Secondary Outreach Activities"
University of Texas El Paso: "Chihuahuan Desert Ecosystems and Impacts of Pollutants in the El Paso/Cd. Juarez region: Research and Education Opportunities for Underrepresented Students in Desert Ecology"
Students of the Grand Canyon SEEDS Chapter at Northern Arizona University had an exciting four day field trip to the wilds of New Mexico in mid September as part of a SEEDS Special Project grant. “It was great to see the Rio Grande valley and to see first-hand the large scale climate change research going on at the Sevilleta,” said Julaire Scott one of the student organizers of the Grand Canyon Chapter. “It is good to see that someone is seriously investigating these coming impacts.”
Students explored a breadth of research projects at the Sevilleta across ecological scales from individual species ecology, to population and community ecology, through landscape level ecosystem studies. Their understanding of research was also expanded through presentations by new grad students, finishing grad students, professional ecologists, and young professors just going up for tenure. “It is very important for students to understand the personal and social aspects of research,” says Dr. Scott Collins, Director of the Sevilleta LTER, “This is just as important as the basic understanding of science.”
The group was also joined by SEEDS students from the University of Texas, El Paso and SEEDS organizers from the University of New Mexico. “The cross-pollination of ideas between students from the different Universities added to the experience for the students,” said Dr. Stefan Sommer, Faculty Advisor for the Grand Canyon Chapter. “Our students are excited by these experiences and are working hard to plan future trips.” Some of them are also planning their own field ecology projects that they hope to conduct at the Sevilleta LTER and elsewhere.
Alcorn State University: "Research and Field trip to Houston, Texas- the Hurricane Ike Devastated City"