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Be a groundskeeper at Calvin’s lake house

Imagine spending your summer in a different kind of biology classroom: a lake house surrounded by abundant wildlife. For biology majors James Eapen and Gabriela Pineda, Calvin’s Flat Iron Lake Nature Preserve was the ideal environment to tackle two research projects related to environmental conservation.


  •   Author: Michal Rubingh and Connor Bechler
  •   Published: October 2, 2019
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Gabriela Pineda and James Eapen walked out of the woods into a power line clearing full of tall grass and wildflowers. Following a path through the grass, James pointed out the bird boxes they were there to check. The boxes resembled regular wooden bird houses, but James and Gabriela had fitted these boxes with sensors to track bird traffic.

As they approached the boxes, what seemed like the sound of a distant highway got increasingly louder. James pointed out a fake rock with a speaker connected to a solar panel apparatus. “That’s our noise generator,” he revealed. “It’s got the timer set to come on for six hours each morning.”

He then opened the box, revealing the nestling blue birds resting inside, who were only two weeks old. Over the next 15 minutes, Gabriela and James spread out their equipment in front of the box and carefully removed the young birds one by one. They took blood samples and a variety of measurements—wing length, lower leg length, and mass—before gently replacing them.

Take charge of environmental conservation

At Calvin, this is the kind of hands-on research project you’ll be invited to work on. Gabriela and James spent their summer living at Calvin’s Flat Iron Lake Nature Preserve, serving as groundskeepers while conducting two research projects. The goal of this first project was to evaluate how human noise pollution impacted the bluebird population by Flat Iron Lake. Gabriela and James also took on another project: studying the effect of climate change on native prairie plants that grow at Flat Iron Lake.

“To get an idea of which plants were most at risk, we needed a long-term data set that allows us to tease out variability caused by weather,” explained biology professor Dave Warners. “Then we could truly evaluate the longer term effects of climate change.”

Walking the trails each day, James and Gabriela monitored the bird boxes and recorded the flower numbers and their blooming status.

A multifaceted effort

“I think one of the fun pieces of the project, but also one of the challenging pieces, was that there were so many different aspects,” remarked biology professor Darren Proppe.

“The amount of tools that they used was really broad,” he added. “That was a pretty unique component of the project.”

Collaboration, Prof. Proppe emphasized, was a key part of the project. The community surrounding Flat Iron Lake was invested in the health of their wildlife.

“The collaborative effort was fun because it meant that what we did is going to extend further. We have people that care and are waiting to see what will happen.”

  •   Author: Michal Rubingh and Connor Bechler
  •   Published: October 2, 2019

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