From the desert floor to cloud forests and back again

August 20, 2018

Biology major Vanessa Beane spent her summer collecting data on and handling reptiles—including rattlesnakes—as a part of an ongoing 40-year study of the herpetofauna present in the Birds of Prey Conservation Area near Boise, Idaho.

This study is a collaboration between the Idaho Army National Guard and the U.S. Geological Survey to research the reptiles in the Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in Southwest Idaho. Since similar surveys were done in the 1970s and 1990s, they will be able to assess the change in the reptile populations due to land use and conditions.

The principal investigator of this project was a BSU graduate student, who was aided by several reptile biological technicians. This reptile survey team, which included Vanessa and three other NNU students, checked traps daily and recorded biological data on captured reptiles.

“The most enjoyable part of this research was my coworkers and being able to be out in the field,” said Vanessa. “My coworkers make the job even more fun, especially because they all have a deep love for these creatures and our environment.”

“The most challenging part was working directly with these wild animals,” Vanessa continued. “It can be easy to forget that they are wild and won’t always appreciate our processes. I’ve been bitten by both snakes and lizards this summer, which at first is shocking but doesn’t hurt too bad.”

Vanessa’s research in the Birds of Prey Conservation Area began after a semester of studying at Southern Nazarene University’s Quetzal Education Research Center (QERC) in Costa Rica. “Studying abroad in Costa Rica for a semester was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” she commented.

Along with a theology and history class, she took varying biology classes that allowed hands-on learning in Costa Rica’s tropical cloud forest. One of her research projects involved using trail cameras to track which mammals, including pumas, coatis and jaguarundi, were active in certain areas throughout the lunar cycle.

“Studying biology in a place where there is so much biodiversity is enthralling,” she added. “A lot of my classes were held outside, and we got to go on hikes while learning the content. This heavily added to my education in that I was able to see in real time what I was learning.”

When asked about the value of her experiences, Vanessa said, “I think it is very significant to have completed research in Idaho and Costa Rica. When studying the sciences, I think it is so important to have these types of experiences, whether out of the country or in your own state. Being able to be out in the field and seeing what it is that biologists do is a great learning experience while still in college and will help to propel you in the future.”

In the fall, Vanessa will embrace more opportunities for experiential learning by assessing the data she helped to gather in the reptile survey this summer and co-authoring a research article on the results. She is also a part of the University Choir and Orchestra and the Biology Department Animal Care Team.

Following graduation, Vanessa plans to continue doing research, likely in marine biology. Wherever she ends up working—ocean, desert, or forest—her varied experiences at NNU will be invaluable.

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