Southwest Biology Camp

BySternberg Museum

Southwest Biology Camp

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Introduction

A fox photographed on one of the motion detecting camera traps we set in NM.

Interested in modern organisms and ecosystems? The Southwest Biology Camp (SBC) students will take a trip to New Mexico to work with biologists from the Sternberg Museum and University Nebraska: Kearney on ongoing bat research! Using professional tools and techniques, we will investigate insect, fish, mammal, bird, reptile, and plant communities and populations. These investigations will include capturing and documenting a number of different species/organisms, and collecting GPS data on captures which will be incorporated into a Sternberg Museum biological specimen database. Students will have the opportunity to use Sherman traps to catch rodents, survey birds using a spotting scope, hunt for scorpions using UV lights, perform nocturnal animal surveys using spotlights, and net bats, among other unique field lessons and activities. In 2015, students documented ten different bat species during our netting surveys! In 2016 we spotted an elegant trogan, one of the rarest birds in North America. We are proud of this incredible collaborative program and the remarkable experiences it provides for our students.

2017 student Makenna Harris holding a bat captured during one of our netting surveys.

Overarching themes of the SBC will include critical thinking skills, use of the scientific method, understanding the process of biological evolution through natural selection, ecology, and generating an informed argument through the use of evidence. The SBC is designed to be an immersive learning experience for students interested in biology and ecology. Our goal is to make sure any student planning to pursue a career in life science will leave our camp with relevant, practical skills and knowledge they can apply in their future coursework.

Drive

A pair of toads found in Tucumcari, NM.

The trip begins with a drive from Hays, KS to Tucumcari, NM where we will camp our first night. Tucumcari contains a remarkable diversity of bird and amphibian wildlife, and has been an excellent stop for us since we began this program. Here, students will get there first opportunity to document wildlife sightings, and get familiarized with our camping routines for the trip.

A White Sands Earless Lizard


On the second day, we will make a stop at White Sands National Monument to explore the spectacular dunes and incredible specialized wildlife, including the White Sands Earless Lizard, found only in this location. Students and staff will dive further into discussions of ecosystem dynamics, evolution, speciation, and adaptation.

Leaving White Sands, we will begin the last leg of our big opening drive, to the Chiricahua Mountains National Monument. Here we will meet up with Dr. Keith Geluso and Dr. Mary Harner, both biologists from University of Nebraska: Kearney who have active research projects in the region.

Chiricahua Mountains National Monument

Students exploring a dry riverbed in Chiricahuas National Monument

An Elegant Trogan, spotted during our 2016 SW Biology Camp trip. This is one of the rarest birds in North America!

In the Chiricahuas, we will explore world-class birding sites. This unique ecosystem stretches deep into Mexico, with many species found nowhere else in the United States. (In 2016 we were lucky enough to spot an Elegant Trogan, a species sought by birders who visit this region from all over the world!) Students will also have a chance to visit hummingbird feeder areas, and go on a night cruise for nocturnal mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects! This will also be our first opportunity to set up the motion-detecting camera traps we will be using throughout the trip.

Gila Wilderness and National Forest

Dr. Mary Harner discussing mountain stream ecology and conservation with SW Biology Camp students.

During the first phase of our time in the Gila wilderness, we will be joining Dr. Keith Geluso and Dr. Mary Harner for evening bat netting surveys. Bats are important indicators of ecosystem health, making them a valuable group of study organisms. Students will learn how bat nets are set up, and how to untangle bats from the nets once they are captured. Students will also assist in data recording, and physical evaluation of the captured bats.

We will also explore the Gila River, and discuss stream and river ecology and conservation with Dr. Harner, a specialist on the region working to better understand and conserve the river system and associated wildlife.

Along with these activities, we will be collecting bird sighting data. This will include photographs, video, and audio of birdsong. Students will receive training on keeping field notes, using binoculars, a spotting scope, a super-telephoto digital photography setup, and a digital audio recorder. (Data collected during this program will be processed and entered into online databases, available for researchers around the world to use.)

Dr. Geluso discussing a bat just freed from the net with students.

Before beginning our trip back to Kansas, we will head up for a night high in the Gila mountains, a coniferous forest drastically different from the dry forest and scrubland we started in. Here we will examine differences in ecology and wildlife from the lowlands, and explore a mountain stream running through our campsite. That night, we will head out for a final bat netting survey with Dr. Geluso and Dr. Harner.

Program Cost

Tuition is $630 per member, and $700 per non-member.

Additional Information and Logistics

Drop off is 8:00am on the first day. Pick up is by 5:00pm on the last day.

Please see Frequently Asked Questions for information about attending the camps for out of state students.

You can follow along with our camp programs on Twitter and Instagram at @SternbergMuseum.

Contact Us

For questions about the Sternberg Science Camps programs, contact Education Director David Levering at DALevering@FHSU.edu, or 785-639-5249.

Application Requirements

– Student applicants must be ages 14 to 18 as of June 2018.
– 2 page (5-7 paragraph) letter of interest from the student applicant.
– Letter of recommendation from the non-family member for the student applicant.
– Financial aid application paperwork (if applying for financial assistance).
– Complete online registration.
– Submit correctly filled out, signed waiver and release form.

Next Generation Science Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are a national collaborative set of benchmarks for science education in the United States. Here, we have listed parts of the NGSS subject contents that are included in this camp program.

Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
HS-LS2-6      HS-LS2-7      HS-LS2-8

Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits
HS-LS3-1

Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
HS-LS4-1
      HS-LS4-4      HS-LS4-5

Earth and Human Activity
HS-ESS3-5

To understand the differences we observe in organisms, a robust understanding of evolution is absolutely necessary. Students are presented with an initial lesson on the population basis for evolution, and how selection over time leads to new species. We continue lessons on evolutionary biology throughout the program, always relating back to the essential concepts of heredity, selection, and variation of genes and physical features. From beak shape and feather colors in birds to the shapes flowers, we will be discussing evolutionary biology frequently, in great depth. Some sub-topics include:
– In-depth discussion of natural selection and selective pressures
– Bird feathers and reproductive selection
– Coevolution
– Camouflage
– Speciation and niche specialization
– Sex-based dimorphism
– Heredity and the importance of trait variation

Studying the interconnected nature of organisms to each other and their environment is crucial for understanding the structure of that ecosystem, and why organisms have evolved as they have. Within the extremely broad field of ecology, we make sure to touch on the following during the program:
– Population ecology
– Community ecology
– Niche ecology
– Trophic ecology
– Behavioral ecology
– Biogeography

Human environmental impacts are a huge concern, even in the typically arid lands of the southwest. The majority of our field work will take place in scrublands, forests, and rivers protected to conserve the biodiversity of the region. Even still, human environmental impacts can still be easily found in all the ecosystems we visit. Students will participate in lessons and discussions about the importance of habitat and biodiversity conservation, including how to approach these topics in the 21st century.

Knowing some basics of camping is essential to field work. Field biology is often done in remote or semi-remote locations, making camping skills necessary to being able to do field work at all!

Training includes:
– Putting up tents
– Camp cooking
– Setting up and breaking down camp
– Leave No Trace strategies
– Efficiently loading and unloading field vehicles
– Environmental injury and illness mitigation
– Building and safely managing a campfire

Field notes that document the location of organisms, information about the habitat, and other details of the field work performed are required for the data to be scientifically useful. We will keep track of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, as well as plants and insects we see as part of our wildlife data collection effort fort he camps. Students learn the essentials of keeping professional-quality notes during all of our field work, with checks and feedback from staff along the way to help them improve.

Taking initiative, staying organized, and effectively communicating are all important skills for working with a team in the field. Over the course of the program, students are coached on developing these areas. With guided opportunities to lead portions of field work, students are encouraged to develop their voices, organize team efforts, and build confidence in their abilities.

From staying hydrated to dealing with bad weather, students are introduced to the hazards of field work and how to effectively, safely deal with them. Staff provide lessons on safety through discussion, making sure students have a clear understanding of problems that can arise and how to effectively avoid them, or mitigate their effects afterwards.

Smartphones and GPS units can lose their signals, and have batteries that die. It is important for students learning to do field work to understand how to read and orient a map. Students are trained in use of aerial photos and compasses to navigate field areas and locate established field sites using cardinal directions and landmarks.

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