Saturday, February 28, 2015

Anna Meyer heads west to pursue new adventures

Anna Meyer defended her thesis in December 2014 and is graduating in May 2015.  She has been a perseverant, joyful, and all-around bright student to advise.  On behalf of the entire lab, I wish her the very best in future endeavors!  Below, she provides us with some thoughts on her time at TTU and her future plans.                  

                  After two years, I’m leaving the Verble Fire Ecology Lab.  I defended my thesis in December and snagged an amazing job opportunity in Washington.  After a long semester of spending fifteen hour shifts in labs and of finishing my thesis, I’m heading for the West Coast to gain some new experiences.  I leave tomorrow to volunteer at an extraordinary ranch in Central Texas for two weeks, and I’m excited about all of the new opportunities presenting themselves this year.

Anna at Camp Bowie
                  These two years have flown by.  They were daunting at the start, and I greatly underestimated exactly how much determination and effort I would need (I started at a flippant 22 years old).  Having reached the end of my Master’s, I feel like an entirely different person.  This degree has taught me the importance of communicating, planning ahead, being resourceful, jumping on opportunities, and developing interpersonal and business relationships.  Even in the process of applying for jobs and graduate opportunities post-Master’s, I feel that the skills I’ve learned here have made me a far more desirable candidate now, and in the future.

                  One of my dad’s favorite sayings is that in every experience, you find out what you like and what you don’t like.  In this experience, I’ve discovered that I love the physical aspects of research: outreach, education, field work, and trying to encourage networking between people.  Most of all I’ve found that I love nutrition studies, disturbance ecology, and working with prescribed fire.  (On the topic of things I don’t like, I’ve found that I don’t like being awake for over 48 hours at a time or finding scorpions in my bed.  Please don’t judge me).

                  My goal now is to find a job or a PhD opportunity on the West Coast, specifically in California.  I have a summer position lined up as a naturalist with a whale watching tour group in the San Juan Islands, and I cannot express in words how excited I am to have this job.  I’ve been applying to whale watching tours for six years (since my freshman year of undergrad), and I finally got in.  After that, I hope to find further jobs in the Pacific.

Cat-- found as a very tiny kitten during the field season, now thriving with Anna
                  First, I want to thank Dr. Verble, who I feel has been largely responsible for a lot of my growth as a researcher and who tried to steer me in the right direction when I was running into intellectual walls.  I want to thank Dr. Perry, my co advisor, for providing me with several incredible opportunities while I was at TTU.  I want to thank my parents for buying me food when they visited and providing emotional support when I was having a rough time, usually at 1 AM in a lab somewhere.  I want to thank all the awesome Texas Tech grad students who made this experience not only educational but also fun.  I really, really want to thank Rachel Granberg, my partner in crime and science, for teaching me a lot about planning, camping, and generally being self-sufficient.  Also, thank you for the cat (I hope to see you in Washington).  My landowners and land managers were great, I’ve never met so many interesting and outspoken people.  I hope to see you guys around.  Thanks to all you guys for the opportunities, and for the experience, and for the cat.

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year, New Publication

First of all, Happy 2015!  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and a restful break from work.

Dr. Steve Yanoviak, Dr. Matt Gifford, and I recently published a new paper on the variation in thermal tolerance of North American ants in the Journal of Thermal Biology.

Citation:  Verble-Pearson, R.M., M.E. Gifford, and S.P. Yanoviak. 2015. Variation in thermal tolerance of North American ants. Journal of Thermal Biology 48: 65-68.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Fall 2014 Wrap-Up

The fall semester is rapidly coming to an end.  Finals Week is in high gear, and the campus is already noticeably quieter, as students depart for their winter break.

This semester, I taught Fire Ecology and Management to a class of 35 junior and senior students, and Environmental Science as a Social Pursuit to around the same number of freshman and sophomores.  Both classes were exciting opportunities to interact with students and learn via student interactions and refreshing my lectures and presentations.

Last week, Anna Meyer successfully defended her thesis, Effects of Fire on Two Ant Species in Central Texas.  While she won't officially graduate until May 2014, this marks a huge accomplishment for her, and I am quite pleased with her work to date.  The results of her work will be featured on tomorrow's radio broadcast of West Texas AgLife.

Additionally, I attended the Society for Range Management -Texas Section meetings in Alpine, Texas and the Texas Prescribed Burn Board meeting in Austin, Texas.  I also helped organize a symposium for the national Entomological Society of America meeting in Portland, Oregon on how to retain women in entomology.  All in all, I feel like its been a productive semester.

Finally, several of the students that I have gotten to know over the last few years at Texas Tech are poised to graduate this December.  I have had the privilege of teaching and mentoring several of these students, and send a heartfelt congratulations to them as they embark on their journey as stewards of natural resources.  In particular, congratulations to my academic advisees Bianca Rendon and Cleaburn Nix, former Student Association for Fire Ecology president Heather Williams, and my graduate student Rachel Granberg (MS).

I wish all of you a happy holiday season and safe travels during this busy time of year!  

Selected December 2014 Texas Tech NRM Graduates:

Cleaburn Nix is completing his B.S. in Natural Resources Management with an emphasis in Wildlife Biology.  He is easily one of the most reliable and trustworthy students I have mentored and excels at hands-on projects.  Cleaburn is a certified Type II Wildland Firefighter, and he is interested in pursuing a career with a wildlife management agency or organization.

Cleaburn Nix gives the guns-up during a prescribed burn in April 2013
Bianca Rendon is completing her B.S. in Natural Resources Management with an emphasis in Wildlife Biology.  She has been active in undergraduate research and spent two summers working as an undergraduate researcher on Barro Colorado Island, Panama with Dr. Ximena Bernal (formerly, TTU, currently Purdue Biology).  Bianca is interested in pursuing an MS in mosquito and/or vector ecology.

Bianca Rendon during a Forest and Rangeland Insect Diversity class photo in Junction, TX; May 2013

Heather Williams is completing her B.S. in Natural Resources Management with an emphasis in Conservation Science.  Heather's enthusiasm is contagious.  Additionally, she is one of the most well-rounded students I have met, having participated in a fisheries internship with Texas Parks and Wildlife, certified as a Type II Wildland Firefighter, served as the TTU Student Association for Fire Ecology club president, and been an active member of the Student Conservation Biology Club.  Upon graduation, she is interested in continuing to expand and refine her skills via internships and eventually an MS program in fisheries.

Heather Williams at AgFest 203

Rachel Granberg completes her M.S. in Natural Resources Management in my laboratory this December.  She defended her thesis in September.  Rachel has written a guest blog that outlines her experiences at TTU and plans for the future.  Rachel has been a wonderful student to advise.  She is remarkably tenacious, very bright, and an incredible self-starter and motivator.  In addition, she is an incredibly interesting and fun person!  I have no doubts that she will be a wonderful asset to her future employers and wish her all the best.

Rachel Granberg on a prescribed burn, August 2013

Monday, December 1, 2014

Rachel Granberg bids the Fire Ecology Lab farewell

Rachel completed her M.S. this semester and is graduating in December 2014.  She has been a productive, enthusiastic, and wonderful student to advise.  On behalf of the entire lab, I wish her the very best in future endeavors!  Below, she summarizes her experiences this semester and her future plans.
This semester has been extremely busy for me.  I ended my second field season in early August and defended my thesis at the end of September.  After defending, I took a short study abroad course in tropical ecology and conducted vegetation surveys in the British Virgin Islands.  I just returned from a Thanksgiving camping trip to Big Bend National Park and am working on submitting manuscripts for publication.  I am also just finishing up filming for a short documentary on which I am collaborating with Wild Lens, Inc. 

In roughly two weeks, I will be graduating from Texas Tech University with my Master’s in Natural Resources Management.  It stuns me how quickly time has passed since I arrived here.  My experiences at Tech have jettisoned me to a new level of maturity and professionalism.  I am looking forward to re-entering the conservation world with a new suite of skills and ideas.  My long-term goal is to be a research ecologist with USGS.  I want to conduct research to understand impacts of fire in the western US and how climate change and land use change may affect these. 

My next step is to join a prescribed fire crew with The Nature Conservancy in Alabama.  I will primarily be based out of Mobile, but our crew will chase good fire weather around the state.  We will be collaborating with USFS, private land owners, and timber industry to administer fire in habitats where it historically occurred.  Working in prescribed fire will give me a greater understanding of fire behavior and will provide valuable networking opportunities.  After finishing up in Alabama, I plan on working a handcrew position in wildland fire suppression in my home state of Washington.

British Virgin Islands (C) Jess East 2014
I have been nothing but blessed in my time in Lubbock.  I was adopted by a wonderful family, the Elliotts, who have let me live in their home and ride their horses like I was one of their own.  I also have been blessed by an incredibly supportive family back home.  I know y’all are tired of me constantly moving because of work (and my wanderlust), but I appreciate that you have supported my education and goals.  I have also made some pretty fantastic friends here in Lubbock.  The students in the Department of Natural Resources Management are incredible people.  I have never met so many good-hearted, fun-loving people in one place.  I would also like to thank my co-advisors, Dr. Verble and Dr. Perry, for their support through graduate school.  Dr. Verble has helped me see there is room for women in fire ecology, we just have to be brave enough to stake a claim.  This has been a whirlwind trip for me and I am looking forward to the next adventure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Insect Soup

The following is a guest post by Ph.D. student, Britt Smith.  Britt joined the Fire Ecology Lab in June 2014 and has been working on the effects of fire on quail and quail food items.  Below, he shares a story about his project.

Hello! I’m excited to write my first post for the Verble Fire Ecology Lab blog. I am a new PhD. Student in the lab. I am originally from Missouri and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Missouri – Kansas City with a B.S. in Environmental Science. After that, I spent two years working at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources where I worked on surveillance and sampling for chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer populations in southwest Wisconsin, and on a large scale grassland conservation project known as the Southwest Wisconsin Grassland and Stream Conservation Area. I left Wisconsin to pursue my Master’s degree at Oklahoma State University where I explored a pasture management technique known as patch-burn grazing, and it’s influence on vegetation and wildlife species. I arrived at Texas Tech this summer, and am examining the influence of fire on arthropod communities in the rolling plains, and particularly arthropods that are important for northern bobwhite quail chicks and breeding females. My research interests focus around the restoration of the historic disturbance regimes of fire and grazing to influence vegetation structure and wildlife utilization of grassland ecosystems.

example elf a pitfall trap just before collecting (C) Britt Smith 2014
This summer I started sampling arthropods in burned and unburned areas in the Texas rolling plains. To sample arthropods I used pitfall traps, which is a plastic cup buried flush with the ground and filled with a solution of water and propylene glycol (pet friendly antifreeze). After about a week, arthropods that have fallen into, and subsequently drowned, are collected and stored in plastic bags. I then take these arthropods back to the lab for processing.

a plastic whirl-pac bag containing collected arthropod specimens (C) Britt Smith 2014
Once back at the lab, these insects are placed into a container and the large arthropods are sorted from the smaller. I call this liquid concoction “insect soup”. While it’s probably chemically safe to eat, I wouldn’t. I then identify the large insects. In the picture below one can see two click beetles, one dung beetle, and two roaches.

arthropods collected and simmering in the "insect soup" (C) Britt Smith 2014

Next, I look into the soup through a dissecting microscope, which gives a large field of view. I then proceed to identify and count individuals of each taxa in the soup. For most insects this is no problem, but for springtails, which can have hundreds of individuals, I estimate by counting individuals in a quarter section of the soup and multiplying by 4.

view through the dissecting scope to identify small arthropods (C) Britt Smith 2014
Taxa and individuals are recorded and then entered into a database and ready for analysis. The soup is transferred to a plastic bag, where it is stored in case something goes awry.