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Dear FWCB Alumni, Friends, Students and Staff--

This year’s undergraduate enrollment in the Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology program is at an all-time high (172) and is now the fourth largest in the college. Why are more students than ever choosing our program? There are lots of reasons, but high on the list is the opportunity to do undergraduate research that the students design and implement. At our admissions sessions the prospect of doing research generates excitement and curiosity—how does this work, what kinds of projects can students do, and how soon can students do it? Undergraduate research has long been part of the culture of FWCB and is something we actively promote.

We encourage students to get to know faculty who are likely to share their science interests. A class lecture, a referral from another student or fellow student, or even a quick search of our web site are ways that students find suitable research mentors. With guidance from a faculty member or postdoc, the student decides on a question they want to explore and develops a research project proposal for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, a campus-wide program. If selected, the student receives funding to cover 120 hours of their research time and up to $300 for research expenses. Students share the results of their research by preparing a written report and presenting at the University of Minnesota Undergraduate Research Symposium held each spring. A few go on to the National Conference of Undergraduate Research or publish their work in a scientific journal. Some students continue their research beyond this initial project, typically with support from their faculty mentor.

The range of undergraduate research in FWCB is tremendous—from climate change effects on monarchs to the life history of the creek heelsplitter (a freshwater mussel); from behavioral deterrents in silver carp to long-term population trends in black-capped chickadees. Among the currently running projects is Blake Mitchell’s research on parasitism of canvasback duck nest by redhead ducks. Blake is comparing rates estimated from physical evidence obtained during traditional nest visits and photographic evidence obtained from automated cameras (see photo in header above). Blake is mentored by Professor Todd Arnold and graduate student Mike Johnson.

Just coming to press is a paper authored by Sean Gibbs, FWCB alumnus, reporting on research conducted while an undergraduate working in Dr. Andrew Simon’s lab. Sean took a new look at the systematics of the species within the Omobranchus, a large genus of comb-toothed blennies found in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The illustrations in the paper are the work of another FWCB student, Andrea Nelson (see illustration below). Contributors (and co-authors) include international research collaborators and graduate students.

FWCB undergraduates are often motivated to take on a research project because they are fascinated with a particular group of organisms or intrigued by a vexing conservation problem. We see the benefits more broadly: in addition to generating new knowledge, our undergraduate researchers develop skills in critical-thinking, writing, project management and organization - and perseverance. No matter what career path they choose, these are all skills that will help them become an effective professional.

Watch for future highlights of undergraduate research in this newsletter—they are sure to impress!

Best wishes to you and your family and friends for a great new year.

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Rob BlairProfessor Rob Blair along with members of the Extension Citizen Science Community of Practice, hosted CitSciMN2017 -- a day-long symposium on citizen science on December 1, 2017.  More than 120 people from across Minnesota attended the symposium. Highlights included a keynote presentation by Carrol Henderson, long-time leader of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Non-Game Program; a series of talks on managing citizen science programs; afternoon workshops on implementing citizen science projects; and a quick-fire series of Ignite presentations on projects from around the state. The Citizen Science websitecan provide more information on citizen science efforts at the University of Minnesota.

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Alex Franzen, sophomore in FWCB, is currently President of the CFANS Student Board. Alex is also student co-chair of the CFANS Mentor Program.
      
L to R: Alex Franzen, Sean Gibbs, and Andrea Nelson
 
The students in Professor Andrew Simon’s lab are on a roll! As highlighted in the opening letter, undergraduate Sean Gibbs, together with illustrator Andrea Nelson, recently published a paper in Zootaxa, “Systematics of the combtooth blenny clade Omobranchus (Blenniidae: Omobranchini), with notes on early life history stages.” Josh Egan (Conservation Sciences graduate student) and collaborators including Peter Hundt (Conservation Science alumnus), also published a paper in the Journal of Fish Biology: “Diets and trophic guilds of small fishes from coastal marine habitats in western Taiwan.”  Both research projects were done in partnership with international collaborators.
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Assistant Professor Laura Dee and colleagues Christopher Costello and Steve Gaines recently published a paper in Ecology Letters  on a new approach for assessing the tradeoffs of managing for ecosystem services and biodiversity protection. “Our results define when managing for ecosystem services alone could leave significant biodiversity unprotected,” Dee explained. “The analysis also helps identify when additional policies such as endangered species regulation will be needed to avoid biodiversity losses.”

Research Assistant Professor Mike McCartney’s work on population genetics of zebra mussel invasion pathways was featured last week on a podcast done by Nicky Ouellet of Montana Public Radio. As Nicky note in the story, “Mike McCartney is basically a detective, tracking the zebra mussels’ every move.”

A new technology, originally developed to protect salmon on the West Coast, is being adopted to remove invasive common carp during their spawning migrations in streams in Minnesota. The aptly named "Whooshh System" is designed to coax the carp to swim into it as if they were trying to jump over a barrier, and then whoosh them away into a trap using compressed air. A low-voltage guidance system is used to guide the carp into the Whooshh. Two videos, one from a campus demo and another from a preliminary trial, show the Whooshh system in action. This LCCMR funded project is led by Research Assistant Professor Przemek Bajer in collaboration with Rice Creek Watershed District.

Research Associate Ratna Ghosal, a behavioral ecologist working on carp research in the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center, is joining Ahmedabad University (Gujarat, India) as an assistant professor in January.

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Roberta RyanRoberta Ryan (BS, ’14) is on the Board of Directors for the CFANS Alumni Society. She is the board representative to the CFANS Mentor Program which is an important and popular program for both undergrads and graduate students in FWCB. Roberta is currently the Animal Care and Education Assistant at the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minnesota.

 

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We depend on your generosity to provide undergrad research scholarships, to bring visiting scholars to campus for special lectures, and even to upgrade our field gear and laboratories. To contribute to FWCB, please contact Sue Galatowitsch (612-624-3242), galat001@umn.edu), FWCB Head. More information about making gifts to the department can be found on the FWCB website.

Thanks to everyone who supports FWCB with contributions to funds that provide scholarships, fellowships, research and lectures. Your gift truly makes a difference!

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Larval blenny illustration by Andrea Nelson

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In this issue:

  • Note from the Dept. Head
  • Announcements & Events
  • Student Highlights
  • Faculty & Staff Highlights
  • Alumni Highlights