RMC Students Participate in Research with the Montana Space Grant Consortium by Larissa Saarel

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Student Researchers (left to right): Lauren Ryter, Addison Valdez, and Larissa Saarel hold a feisty snapping turtle.   Photo courtesy of Kayhan Ostovar.

Student Researchers (left to right): Lauren Ryter, Addison Valdez, and Larissa Saarel hold a feisty snapping turtle.
Photo courtesy of Kayhan Ostovar.

Students from around the state visited Rocky Mountain College and took part in a workshop made possible through the Montana Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) on Sep. 18-19. Through the workshop, they had the chance to learn more about research opportunities for students and take part in important data collection for the environmental science program’s ongoing turtle research projects.

Director of the MSGC and Montana NASA EPSCoR, Angela, says the “purpose of the MSGC workshops is to introduce students to hands-on research, especially those who don’t have other opportunities.” All of the students who attended were from Montana universities and colleges with a priority for students from smaller campuses including a handful of current RMC students. The MSGC had three different workshops that students could choose from; here at RMC, the workshop focused on the snapping and spiny softshell turtle research projects being conducted by current environmental science students under the guidance of professor, Kayhan Ostovar. The MSCG wants to offer a wide range of topic types and workshops for students to choose from, and the turtle research being done here is certainly unlike any other! In addition, the MSGC has helped to sponsor undergraduate research students working with Ostovar, and they knew that this was exciting research.

The workshop consisted of two main events. On the evening of Sep. 18, MSGC students gathered at the Bair Science building to attend a presentation by Ostovar, which outlined some of the qualities and importance of researching turtles especially in Montana where little is known about them. After that, three undergraduate research students conducting their own turtle research presented their projects. Senior Reece Robinett’s research focused on spiny softshell turtle movements across a barrier. Junior Addison Valdez looked into how temperature and stream flow relates to a healthy creek ecosystem for turtles. Junior Larissa Saarel researched how juvenile spiny softshell demographics differ in a dammed and undammed river system in relation to available nesting habitat.

On the morning of Sep. 19, students had a chance to try out a method of tracking turtles called radio telemetry. This type of data collection allows students to track turtles to a specific location. Each turtle tracked had a radio tag with a specific frequency. When that frequency is entered into the telemetry receiver, it has the ability to pick up the signal of the turtle. The closer a person gets to the turtle, the louder the receiver beeps. Students practiced with this device on campus before testing their skills in the field. The workshop students then split into two groups to track snapping turtles on Razor Creek near Shepherd, Montana. It can be difficult to pinpoint the turtles due to the radio waves bouncing off of the bluffs surrounding the creek, but the students were diligent and were able to track down three snapping turtles in total. Both groups had the chance to pull out a snapping turtle from the creek and learn more about the physical characteristics, as well as the data collected when capturing turtles. This project allowed MSGC students to experience some of the hands-on opportunities available to undergraduate research students and see if it is something they’re interested in.

The MSGC workshop was a total success. Not only was it an exciting opportunity for the workshop students to partake in and become inspired to start research of their own, but it also allowed current RMC research students to discuss their projects and teach students about the importance of turtles in these ecosystems which surround us. Olivia, a student at MSU Bozeman, said her favorite part was “the pure joy and excitement we all shared when we finally located the snapping turtle and got to see it close up…it boggles me how dragon-like these creatures are.” If you are interested in doing research of your own, find a professor or advisor to help you get started! If you’re looking for possible funding, check out MSGC’s Awards for Research in Engineering and Science (ARES) program.

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