Monday, June 24, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlight: Makenna and the New Zealand Mud Snail

SRAPer: Makenna Fair
Home State: Colorado
Year in school: Freshman in College
Future Plans: Attend CSU, studying biology

Most teenagers don’t dream of spending their summers studying science. But for Makenna, studying science is something that has always interested her.
“I just like science,” Makenna says.  “I’ve always been interested in science. Just being outside and being able to research about what I learn about the outdoors; it’s cool”.
Makenna is working with Dr. Amy Krist and graduate student Brenna Hansen. Last year, Dr. Krist and Brenna worked with a SRAP student and studied the differences in nutrient content of algae, which snails eat, along a stream bed. This year, Makenna is adding to that research by studying snails themselves.
 “We are doing a behavioral study on the New Zealand mudsnail, the invasive species that has invaded parts of North America, Europe, and Australia,” says Makenna. “We are testing population densities and how the snails behave in different population densities.”
The idea for this project came from Brenna, who identified in her thesis research the potential benefits that snails may receive from living in high densities.
 “One of the benefits seems to be facilitating food location,” says Brenna.  “The motivation behind this experiment is to determine whether mudsnails use high densities of conspecifics (same species) to locate food using visual cues (seeing clusters of individuals near/on food) or whether they follow chemical trails released by feeding conspecifics.”
Understanding this phenomena about the snails may help researchers like Brenna and Dr. Krist, and perhaps one day Makenna, identify ways to control the invasive nature of this species.
Makenna says her favorite part about this research is seeing how it all matches up.
“All of it is important, so it all ties together,” she says.
As Makenna looks forward to beginning a degree in biology, she is gaining invaluable research experience in SRAP. In the future, Makenna may not continue to study snails, but she is gaining knowledge about the research process and learning to write research papers, which will give her an advantage when she starts at university in the fall.

SRAP is a six-week intensive research program for high school students. It is based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR

By Robin E. Rasmussen and Kali S. McCrackin

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