Current GK-12 Fellows PDF Print E-mail

2012-2013 KBS GK-12 Fellows

Name: Tomomi Suwa (suwatomo@msu.edu)

Partner District: KAMSC and Gull Lake

Degrees Held: M.S., School of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; B.Sc., Ecology, University of Guelph

Fellow Since 2011

Research Interests: My research focuses on how soil bacteria make it possible for plants to live in different habitats. One of the soil bacteria, called rhizobia, live inside the roots of some plants and acts like natural fertilizer. Rhizobia can convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into ammonia, in a form that plants can use. In turn, plants can provide sugar to the rhizobia. This beneficial interaction is called a mutualism. Rhizobia can help plants grow in areas where they might not live otherwise. But just like human relationships, plants and rhizobia may not be compatible or one of the partners may not even be available! For example, rhizobia may not survive or convert nitrogen effectively in certain environmental conditions, like in shade or high areas of nitrogen in the soil. Using a native plant called the hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata), I am looking at how rhizobia can make it possible for plants to live in different habitats.

Hog peanuts tend to grow in small patches in the forest and wetlands but it’s unclear why they grow in certain microhabitats. Is it because rhizobia are distributed in a patchy way or is it because rhizobia benefit plants differently in various environmental conditions? I am currently conducting a series of field and greenhouse experiments to test this hypothesis. So stay tuned!

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Name: Tyler Basset (basset17@msu.edu)

Partner District: Comstock and Parchment

Degrees Held:

Fellow Since 2011

Research Interests: Native ecosystems everywhere have seen lots of abuse as the human population   increases and we demand more of the natural environment, and the upper Midwest is no exception. They are smaller, more fragmented, support less species than they used to, and many of those species are exotic (invaders from other continents). Ecosystems provide important “ecosystem services” – clean air, clean water, erosion and flood control, pollination, natural pest control – so scientists are trying to find out the best way to restore ecosystems. KBS graduate student and GK-12 fellow Tyler Bassett is exploring how many plant species are necessary to successfully restore native prairies that were a major part of southern Michigan’s landscape prior to European settlement. (In fact, the village of Richland sits at the center of where the 2,500 acre Gull Prairie once stood.) Ecosystems with greater diversity (more species) tend to be more resistant to invasion by exotic species and provide more ecosystem services consistently over time, but seed for restorations is expensive and adding more species may not necessarily lead to increased restoration success. You can see some of Tyler’s research on this issue at the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s Woodlawn Preserve near KBS.

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Name: Elizabeth Schultheis (schulth5@msu.edu)

Partner District: Gobles

Degrees Held: BA, Environmental Biology, Colgate University, 2008

Fellow Since 2010

Research Interests: My research is on invasive plant species and their interactions with the communities they invade. Specifically, I am interested in studying the role of plant soil feedbacks (PSF) in species invasions. I plant to look at factors such as time since invasion and relatedness to other individuals in the community to see if these factors affect the acquisition of soil enemies for a new invader. My current research uses Acer platanoides to study the Enemy Release Hypothesis and PSF to determine if A. platanoides' ability to invade intact forests comes from a relatively more positive PSF as compared to the native A. saccharum, and whether these feedbacks can alter the outcome of competition.

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Name: Michael Kuczynski (kuczyns8@msu.edu)

Partner District: Hastings and Delton-Kellogg

Degrees Held:

Fellow Since 2011

Research Interests: My name is Michael Kuczynski, I am a graduate student here at KBS studying the mating behaviors of local frogs and toads.  If you have ever lived near a pond or swamp then chances are every spring your nights were filled with the sounds of singing frogs.  Male frogs form these large choruses to attract females.  We know that females prefer to mate with males that call at a high rate and produce long calls; however, not every male calls this way.  Why wouldn’t every male try to call as frequently and as long as possible?   Well one reason is that calling is costly; singing takes a lot of energy and exposes the frog to predators.  Being eaten while trying to attract mates is obviously never a good thing, but it actually may be worse for some frogs than for others.  A young male frog that gets eaten is losing out on several years worth of future mating opportunities.  On the other hand, an old frog that gets eaten is not losing as much because he was near the end of his life anyways.  In my research I investigate whether this difference in the cost of calling for old and young frogs influences their calling behavior.  By making numerous recordings of frogs singing I can see whether older males are putting a greater effort into calling than younger males as a result of the younger males having more opportunities to mate in the future.

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Name: Anne Royer (royerann@msu.edu)

Partner District: Lawton

Degrees Held:

Fellow Since 2012

Research Interests: Growing up in rural Indiana, I spent summers running through fields, rolling around in the creek behind our house, and inspecting the plants and animals that surrounded me.  This transformed into a professional interest  – why do these organisms look the way they do?  My research looks at how the shapes of flowers are influenced by natural selection from the insects that visit them.

Currently, my work focuses on the mustard plant family.  Most flowers have many identical stamens (male structures), but mustards have two kinds within a flower - long and short ones.  Long stamens seem to attract pollinators, but no one knows what the short stamens are for.

The data I have collected support the idea that the short stamens help the plant by slowing release of pollen (plant sperm) from flowers to insects.  Like a secret chocolate stash – hard to find, so the pollen lasts longer and ends up spread more widely.  However, for species that pollinate themselves without insects, short stamens may not be useful.  So while most mustards make short stamens because they help them reproduce better, others seem to retain them just because their ancestors did - sort of an evolutionary bad habit.

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Name: Cara Krieg (kriegca1@msu.edu)

Partner District: Harper Creek

Degrees Held:

Fellow Since 2012

Research Interests: I’m Cara Krieg and I’m a 3rd year graduate student at the Kellogg Biological Station.  Growing up I was always interested in animals and now I study animal behavior.  Have you ever heard someone say “men are from Mars and women are from Venus”?  Have you ever wondered how much of this is a product of biology and how much is a result of culture?  In nature males are typically the more aggressive sex, particularly when it comes to fighting over females.  However, nature is complicated and females are often aggressive too.  Why females fight and whether female aggression is different from males isn’t as well understood.  Working with house wrens, I study aggression in males and females to understand how and why their fighting styles differ.  House wrens compete aggressively for the valuable nest sites we provide to them.  Using recorded songs and a model house wren, I simulate a threat to these nest sites and record the aggressive responses by the male and female birds.  After measuring aggression, I keep track of the eggs and nestlings each bird raises to determine if aggression has consequences later down the road.  Do the demands of raising offspring prevent one sex from being very aggressive?  Does aggression provide a bigger benefit for the other sex?  Or are the sexes more similar than we think?

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Name: Dustin Kincaid (kincai32@msu.edu)

Partner District: Plainwell

Degrees Held:

Fellow Since 2012

Research Interests: I study shallow freshwater ecosystems like streams, wetlands, and shallow lakes. I am broadly interested in environmental changes that influence surface water quality. One question I am investigating is how climate change, specifically the increased intensity of drought, alters the chemistry of surface water of streams, wetlands, and lakes that don’t typically experience dry periods. Another question I am interested in is how nutrient inputs from agriculture—primarily nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P)—affect surface water quality. One current project I am working on is experimentally drying a wetland that hasn’t been dry for more than ten years in order to study the changes in surface water chemistry once the wetland is re-flooded.

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Name: Jakob Nalley (nalleyja@msu.edu)

Partner District: Olivet

Degrees Held:

Fellow Since 2012

Research Interests: My research into alternative fuel sources stems from a deep passion for understanding how we, as humans, can continue to develop as a society while maintaining our status as stewards of the Earth. As we continue to consume natural resources at extremely high rates, exterminate species, and pollute the environment around us, developing a more sustainable role for humans in the environment is extremely important. My research focuses on our energy consumption, mainly on indentifying an alternative fuel source to the traditional fossil fuel supplies humans have quickly diminished. I believe the answer is algae. A number of algal species contain a high amount of fats, the base component for diesel fuel production. Along with this high fat content, algae’s ability to quickly grow, consume carbon dioxide throughout its life cycle (decreasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere), and grow in uncultivated lands makes it an excellent alternative fuel source for our diesel fuel supply. I am focusing on how we can inexpensively grow algae in outdoor ponds all over the world. Specifically investigating whether in these ponds, a pond containing multiple species can continuously supply high amounts of fats for fuel generation while facing seasonal environmental changes (temperature, pH, light levels, etc.) and stave off invading algal species that may disrupt the community.

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Name: Sara Garnett (garnett3@msu.edu)

Partner District: Plainwell

Degrees Held:

Fellow Since 2012

Research Interests: Like most people with siblings, I am familiar with the potential for conflict in family relationships. Despite frequent competition with brothers and sisters for toys, parental attention, and access to the remote, you still love them and want them to succeed. This pattern is not unique to human families; seeking a balance between cooperation and competition happens in a wide variety of animals. We’re used to thinking about nature as a competitive place, where only intense fighting for shelter, food, and mates will bring success, but we see individuals put themselves at greater risk to predators or compete less intensely for food or mates when relatives are involved. Because relatives share at least some of the same genes, behaving in ways that help relatives survive and reproduce can be an effective strategy for an individual to pass its genes on to the next generation. This raises questions about when it is best for an individual to focus on itself vs. its relatives, as well as the strategies animals use to maintain this balance.

My research examines these questions using American toad tadpoles. They prefer to swim near siblings rather than non-siblings in their birth ponds, using chemicals in the water to tell them apart. I am investigating whether these chemicals might provide information that influence how quickly tadpoles grow and develop, or how intensely they compete for food. In particular, I am interested in whether they respond differently to siblings than non-relatives in different environments. By looking at how these factors influence tadpole growth, I can get an idea of how tadpoles improve the chance that they (and their siblings) will make it out of the pond in a variety of environmental conditions.