Undergraduates Gain Practical Research and Analysis Skills Studying Invasive Plants

Invasive species, Rumex crispus, San Diego, CA. Photo Credit: Stickpen via Wikipedia Commons

In Spring 2011, NCEAS facilitated the first-ever undergraduate distributed seminar which provided opportunities for students to do field research, network, share strategies, and form collaborations with students at eight other institutions. The seminar’s results filled a hole in collective ecology knowledge and were published in the August edition of BioScience magazine.

Under the guidance of David Marsh, former NCEAS undergraduate education advisor and currently a biology professor at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, each class compiled data on invasive plants in the U.S. National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) in its region. Representatives from each class brought their data to NCEAS, where they performed continental-scale analysis to understand how the aforementioned factors promote or inhibit invasive species. Students used structural equation models to tease out key relationships between native, non-native, and invasive plants. The findings show that patterns in wildlife refuges are similar to those previously reported for unprotected areas: Natives and non-native richness is positively related in mainland refuges (the “rich get richer” pattern), but negatively related on island refuges.

The distributed-seminar experimental teaching model originated at NCEAS, where, in 1997, graduate students from eight institutions first came together to analyze the science of different habitat-conservation plans and create a report. The combined effort made it possible to tackle data sets that would overwhelm a single student or even an individual lab.

“Collaboration and data-sharing across institutions is increasingly important in scientific research, but our traditional classroom structures can make it difficult for students to get a sense of how such distributed research actually works,” said Stephanie Hampton, deputy director of NCEAS. “With these distributed seminars, the students get practical, guided experience working in a large collaboration and using a variety of data types. It's a different way for students to see science done, and far more representative of modern research.”

“The distributed undergraduate seminar played an important role in my decision to pursue a career in the epidemiology of emerging infectious diseases. I am currently a fellow at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and I plan to continue a graduate program in epidemiology within a year.”

~ Alberto Aparicio, who participated while attending San Francisco State University.

Invasive Plants in Wildlife Refuges: Coordinated Research with Undergraduate Ecology Courses
Martha F. Hoopes, David M. Marsh, Karen H. Beard, Nisse Goldberg, Alberto Aparicio, Annie Arbuthnot, Benjamin Hixon, Danelle Laflower, Lucas Lee, Amanda Little, Emily Mooney, April Pallette, Alison Ravenscraft, Stephen Scheele, Kyle Stowe, Colin Sykes, Robert Watson and Blia Yang
BioScience, Vol. 63, No. 8 (August 2013), pp. 644-656

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Posted on August 13, 2013