Professor’s Creative Trailer Motivates Biology Students

 

Santiago Salinas trailer
Assistant Professor of Biology Santiago Salinas prepares dissection materials that will be sent to students participating in distance learning this term.

When Assistant Professor of Biology Santiago Salinas learned that Kalamazoo College would be transitioning to distance learning for the spring semester, he knew how he felt. “I was bummed,” said Salinas. Without meeting face-to-face in a classroom or lab, how would his students connect? How would they grasp the hands-on skills they would traditionally experience in a face-to-face classroom, like animal dissection and model work?

“I needed to pump myself up for the quarter,” Salinas said. Internet research yielded inspiration, and soon Salinas had created a movie trailer for his vertebrate biology class — complete with atmospheric soundtrack and compelling narrative voiceover.

Salinas sent the trailer to his class. “I was honest with them, as I usually am in class anyway, and I told them I was having a hard time concentrating,” Salinas said. “I explained that I was bummed out that we wouldn’t be meeting face to face.” His students responded positively, sharing that the trailer had motivated them and made them laugh. When Salinas posted the trailer to Twitter, the outside world responded similarly. That feedback and connection re-energized Salinas as he moved forward with further classroom innovations.

“Twitter has been great for ideas,” Salinas said, describing how his search for inspiration and distance learning materials caused him to reframe his approach. He now sees himself as a curator. “There’s a lot of stuff out there — videos that are so much better than anything that I could put together, supplementing my slides and narration,” Salinas said.

Now, Salinas has high hopes for his vertebrate biology class. “This is forcing me to think about how I do things, and how I decide to prioritize content. Sometimes it’s good to be shocked because you start to reassess things,” Salinas said. “For the students, my hope is that they realize that they are not at K for the grades. I hope they recognize that they are driven intrinsically by what they are interested in, because they are, and that they do biology because they enjoy it.”

Salinas said that he has intentionally encouraged his students to provide feedback regarding biology-specific skills they would like to learn. When most of his students expressed interest in improving their grasp of scientific writing, Salinas quickly adjusted his assignments accordingly. “Maybe this wasn’t something we would cover in a normal quarter,” Salinas said, “But I think it’s going to make for a better course, and a better course for next year.”

As for Salinas’ earlier worries about dissection? “Well, I just finished packaging frogs, sharks, pigeons, and other critters. I will be mailing them out to our young biologists and we’ll do the dissections remotely!” Salinas said.

Meet the Hornets Helping Bumblebees Through Citizen Science

What’s black, yellow and fuzzy all over? Bumblebees. And Biology Professor Ann Fraser wants to know what it takes to preserve them in Michigan.

Four students researching bumblebees
Trevor Rigney (from left), Niko Nickson, Amy Cazier and Nicki Bailey comprised Biology Professor Ann Fraser’s summer research group last year.

To that end, Fraser and her Kalamazoo College lab students are launching the Southwest Michigan Bee Watch. The program will track bumblebee diversity, measure local restoration efforts and discover whether any species might be declining or recuperating in the area.

“Bumblebees are important pollinators, particularly of our spring plants,” Fraser said, noting they’re vital to common Michigan crops, and more important to pollination than honeybees. “They’ll go out in cold weather, even when it’s rainy. They’re particularly good pollinators of fruit crops such as blueberries, apples and cherries.”

In the bee watch, citizen scientists in nine counties will volunteer as photographers nearly anywhere outdoors—including natural areas, walking trails, backyards and roadsides—and submit their photos to an online portal. Fraser, students and other scientists then will look at the photos, noting the black-and-yellow patterns on the bumblebees’ backs. Those patterns will identify each species and help determine which might be maintaining their numbers, which might be declining and which might be making a comeback.

“This year, my hope is to build a strong volunteer base so that we can start building a thorough database of bumblebee species in the area,” said Niko Nickson ’21, the student most dedicated to the effort as it will develop into his senior individualized project (SIP). “I’m also planning to analyze our data for relationships between species abundance and landscape differences. In the future, I would love to see the program continue to build, maybe inspiring more community science efforts across the state.”

Fraser said she had been hoping to start a project like the Southwest Michigan Bee Watch for a few years, but never found the right student to lead it. Then, she met Nickson.

“Community science is fascinating because I see it as an opportunity to connect academia and its surrounding community,” Nickson said. “In this way, it makes science approachable to all, regardless of educational level.”

His love of the outdoors also benefits the project.

“I think being outside is a great way to relieve stress and spend time in general,” Nickson said. “I see this program as an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of our regional environment while also encouraging more community members to spend time outdoors. In this sense, community science gives volunteers an excuse to be outside, and who doesn’t love a reason to get some sunlight?”

March 3 is World Wildlife Day. Its theme this year is “Sustaining all life on Earth,” as it recognizes all wild animal and plant species as being key components of the world’s biodiversity. Yet within the biosphere, bumblebees are struggling. In fact, according to NationalGeographic.com, we are nearly 50 percent less likely to see a bumblebee in any given area of North America than we were before 1974.

“Insects in general are in decline,” Fraser said. “That’s alarmingly well documented. Bumblebees are following this trend. At least half a dozen species of the 20 in Michigan are in decline. One of which, the rusty-patched bumblebee, was on the federal endangered species list as of 2017.”

A project like the Southwest Michigan Bee Watch could play a role in reversing those trends. Those interested in volunteering can sign up for the project’s mailing list and request more information at swmbees.kzoo.edu/.

K Students Inspire Girls to Explore STEM Through Sisters in Science

Sisters in Science
Through Sisters in Science, Kalamazoo College students use hands-on lessons, experiments and field trips, such as this field trip to the Lillian Anderson Arboretum, to encourage Northglade Montessori fourth- and fifth-graders to learn about science.

When the world celebrates the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Feb. 11, a Kalamazoo College student organization will be doing what it can to inspire local fourth- and fifth-graders.

Each Tuesday and Thursday, K’s Sisters in Science (SIS) visits Northglade Montessori Magnet School to encourage girls to seek an education and career in the sciences. The visits, coordinated through Kalamazoo Communities in Schools, involve hands-on lessons, experiments and field trips that nurture interest in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). This allows SIS members to serve as role models, and local youths to grow their dreams of future achievements.

“We want to provide these girls with an influential woman in their lives,” said Marjorie Wolfe ’20, a SIS member and chemistry major from Kalamazoo. “A lot of them don’t come from backgrounds where a career in science seems accessible. We’re showing these girls they can go to college, do research and become doctors, engineers and more. We serve as sisters, mentors and examples of what they can become.”

According to the United Nations, less than 30 percent of scientific researchers in the world are women and only about 30 percent of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Female representation is especially low professionally in information and communication technology at 3 percent; natural science, mathematics and statistics at 5 percent; and engineering at 8 percent.

To reverse these trends, the U.N. General Assembly established the International Day of Women and Girls in Science to celebrate women scientists and build equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. About 40 SIS members, including Karina Aguilar ’22, a biology and Spanish double major from Albuquerque, New Mexico, are doing their part to bolster that effort.

“Last year, in between two labs, I would go to Sisters in Science and do a nice, fun thing before I had to do something serious for four hours,” Aguilar said. “When you’re a student, it’s easy to be wrapped up in what’s happening on campus — we call it the K bubble. This helps us break that bubble, serve the community and be a mentor. It gives us a portal to the community.”

Aguilar hopes SIS experiments this year will include a lesson in making ice cream, although her favorite experiment to date involved a bridge-building contest that her little sister won. Such experiments, Wolfe said, help the fourth- and fifth-graders understand the scientific process and get them excited to be in school. Aguilar and Wolfe agreed the age group is critical in recruiting girls in science because they’re starting to learn what interests them most in school and they have yet to decide what classes to pursue for themselves.

“Initially, the first few times we’re at the school, we’re just trying to show we’re friendly and gain their respect,” Wolfe said. “That can go a long way for these girls. Eventually, we help them fill out worksheets that teach them what a hypothesis is. Before you know it, we’re working on an experiment and they say, ‘Oh! I know what the hypothesis will be!’”

When asked what she would do if she one day saw that one of her little sisters achieved a scientific breakthrough, Wolfe said, “The cool part would be knowing they stuck with science and believed in themselves; that they didn’t listen to someone who told them they couldn’t do it.”

Aguilar said, “I’d probably cry. Maybe it wasn’t from me specifically, but I’d love knowing that they developed that drive to be scientists. It would be amazing to see these girls who aren’t necessarily pushed to go to college make a career for themselves in science.”

“SIS was created for exactly what Aguilar and Wolfe have stated – to give young girls the knowledge that they can do science” stated Stevens-Truss, who envisioned the group in 2001.

Biology Students: It Takes a Village to Stop Invasive Species

If you’ve ever wondered whether invasive species of plants are a problem in Michigan, four Kalamazoo College biology students have your answer: Yes.

Fiorina Talaba and Fiona Summers mapping invasive species
Fiorina Talaba (left) and Fiona Summers are two of the four students mapping invasive species of plants this summer at the Lillian Anderson Arboretum and Kleinstuck Preserve.

Fiorina Talaba ’22 from California, Mathew Holmes-Hackerd ’20 from Massachusetts, Fiona Summers ’20 from Illinois and Kelson Perez ’21 from Michigan are mapping invasive species with Biology Professor Binney Girdler this summer at K’s Lillian Anderson Arboretum and Western Michigan University’s Kleinstuck Preserve.

The results show several types of the problematic plants are common and growing quickly locally with few natural predators or pests as they choke out native species. That could be causing interruptions to important ecological processes, and potentially, endangering some native plants to the point of extinction.

“In today’s climate, we need to focus on biodiversity and how we’re affecting the environment,” Talaba said. “It’s not just the gases we’re emitting into the atmosphere that present environmental issues. It’s also how invasive species have gotten here and changed our environment to a point where it’s hard to recognize it from what it used to be. We have an obligation to protect native species.”

Kelson Perez and an arboretum official map invasive species
Kelson Perez (right) is one of four Kalamazoo College biology students working on mapping invasive species of plants under Biology Professor Binney Girdler this summer.

Some of the invasive plants the four are commonly finding in Kalamazoo include:

  • Creeping myrtle, sometimes called periwinkle, which is a flowering plant.
  • Buckthorn, a hardy shrub known for its bright, glossy leaves.
  • Winged euonymus, a bush-like shrub that is sometimes called burning bush.
  • Honeysuckle, identifiable as an arching shrub or twining vine that can have a strong fragrance.
  • Oriental bittersweet, a vine that tends to suffocate trees and sap their nutrients, potentially creating hazards related to dead trees for arboretum visitors.
  • Japanese knotweed, which is a plant with bamboo-like stems and small white flowers.
  • Garlic mustard, a biennial flowering plant known for its medicinal and culinary uses, despite its invasive aspects in nature.

How did the invasive species get here?

It’s not always clear how these invasive species, mostly from Asia and some from Europe, arrive in Kalamazoo.

“It shows how interconnected our society has become,” Perez said. “We can transport things like invasive species over massive distances in ways that would’ve been impossible in any other age. It’s like another Pangea where continents are pressing up against each other.”

However, it generally can be said that people have been responsible for allowing them to spread. Some people might even be planting the invasive species in their own gardens and yards because the plants look pretty, or transporting seeds on their shoes as they walk through the arboretum.

“Dr. Girdler says a majority of people will just look at invasive species and see green,” Holmes-Hackerd said. “They will look at all the green plants and think how pretty they are. We want to take it a level deeper. If we look at invasive species within the ecosystem and how they affect the large preserve, it can open people’s eyes. It can be bizarre to see a tree completely covered in leaves when the tree is dead because an invasive plant killed it.”

Hope for the future

While invasive species are a formidable foe, the four K student researchers say the projects they’re completing have provided opportunities for community outreach and established baselines that one day will help other researchers measure whether their efforts have been effective.

Their own outreach has consisted of sharing their research with other students through social media, talking with neighbors of the arboretum about the problematic plants, and encouraging community involvement in planting more native species, pulling invasive plants and protecting natural spaces.

“A lot of times you think of a scientist as someone who is rigid and wears a white coat,” Summers said. “We want to be super approachable and make people enjoy learning about invasive species.”

A platform like social media, for example, “provides such an easy way for young people to feel the experience,” Summers added. “Another reason I like it is it makes it easy to communicate our science to the general public. A lot of scientists lack the ability of explaining what they do so that anyone can understand it.”

Get involved

Here’s what you can do:

  • Ask your local nursery or gardening store about what you’re planting to ensure it’s not invasive, and plant more native species.
  • Volunteer to pull invasive plants at community events that target them.
  • Clean your shoes, hiking boots and pet’s paws after walking on nature trails to prevent the seeds of invasive plants from spreading.

Targeting invasive species “really is reliant on community involvement,” Holmes-Hackerd said. “The arboretum alone is 150 acres. It’s not something a handful of researchers can handle on their own. We’re hoping we can get the community to care and help out in any way.

National Moth Week Spotlights Winged Insects

National Moth Week blacklighting at Quad
Kalamazoo College students participate in a process called “blacklighting” to gather moths for their entomology class insect collections. Moth enthusiasts from around the world are likely to try blacklighting during National Moth Week.

If you ever see Kalamazoo College students hanging sheets by clotheslines suspended between trees on the Quad, they’re not doing laundry. They’re rounding up moths for their entomology class collections in a practice called “blacklighting.”

The process emits a black light into the UV spectrum to attract moths, and it’s one of many ways that citizen scientists are likely to celebrate National Moth Week, which is ongoing through Friday.

According to its website, National Moth Week celebrates the beauty, lifecycles and habitats of moths as the public is encouraged to learn about, observe and document moths in backyards, parks and neighborhoods. And don’t let the word “national” fool you. Since its founding in 2012, National Moth Week has gone global by expanding to all 50 states and 80 countries worldwide.

National Moth Week Luna Moth
Luna moths, known for their green wings, long tails and transparent eyespots, are common in southwest Michigan.

Although the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon likely is the more celebrated science-related event this week, moths are interesting to study because they make a “giant leap” of their own through metamorphosis. The process completely changes their bodies from wormlike caterpillars into winged adults during the cocoon stage. This abrupt change in body plan during development is found in only one-third of all insect groups, Kalamazoo College Biology Professor Ann Fraser said, but these groups account for the vast majority of insect species, suggesting this life cycle innovation was a highly successful one.

Furthermore, “many caterpillars of moths are a very important food source in the food chain,” and “some scientists use moths as indicators of bigger things going on in the environment,” Fraser said. “It’s easy to see trends with declines in their numbers as indicators of climate change or habitat loss.”

Moths definitively are insects because they have six legs and, as adults, they have three body regions consisting of the head, the thorax and the abdomen, Fraser said. Plus, they’re among the most diverse living creatures on Earth with more than 150,000 species including their day-roaming brethren: butterflies.

National Moth Week Hawk Moth
Hawk moths hover around plants and flowers so they commonly are mistaken for hummingbirds.

Some of the more eye-catching varieties of moths in southwest Michigan include hawk moths, which can be mistaken for hummingbirds because they’re about the same size as hummingbirds and hover around plants and flowers, Fraser said. Others include the luna moth known for its green wings, long tails and transparent eyespots. Plainer and more problematic varieties include gypsy moths, which are known as exfoliator pests because they strip trees and plants of their leaves.

“You can actually spot their poop on the sidewalk,” Fraser said of gypsy moth caterpillars. “Frass is the technical term for it. You see it on the ground, so you know something in the tree is feeding on the tree.”

Regardless, many hobbyists find collecting moths such as these and others to be fascinating and as easy as leaving a porch light on after dark. Fraser, for example, still remembers collecting a big moth for the first time when she was about 10 years old.

“It’s an experience that always stuck with me,” said Fraser, who curates the college’s insect collection that includes cases of pinned moths raised or collected by herself and her predecessor, Professor David Evans. “It’s always exciting to find the big colorful ones.”

For advice on how you can study moths, visit nationalmothweek.org or email info@nationalmothweek.org.

‘Ambassador of Science’ Earns NSF Graduate Fellowship

Each year, up to $100 billion worth of harvested food is lost worldwide to pests and microbes. A Kalamazoo College student’s research could hold part of the solution.

NSF Graduate Fellow uses a microscope at Dow Science Center
Marco Ponce ’19 examines insects through a microscope at Dow Science Center. He will attend Kansas State University with an NSF Graduate Fellowship beginning this fall.

Marco Ponce ’19, a biology major from San Diego, conducted his Senior Individualized Project (SIP) last summer under Rob Morrison, Ph.D., ’06, a research entomologist working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Grain and Animal Health Science in Manhattan, Kansas. Their work targeted alternative methods for managing red flour and lesser grain beetles, which primarily attack stored grains.

“Prior research has found that these beetles release some pheromones that make them come together in groups, and others that trigger them to spread out,” Ponce said. As a result, “we wondered how their density affects their behavior when they look for food. We’ve found the beetles responded less to otherwise attractive food cues when they’re grouped in higher densities, so we’re trying to synthesize the signal that turns off their food-finding behavior and use it as a repellent. Our goal is to figure out how to use their biology against them.”

NSF Graduate Fellow Marco Ponce in a group of six
Marco Ponce ’19 (third from right) stands with Rob Morrison, Ph.D., ’06, (third from left) outside the Insect Zoo at Kansas State University. Ponce will attend Kansas State through an NSF Graduate Fellowship this fall.

Ponce learned last week that he earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship to attend Kansas State University as a graduate student this fall, meaning he and Morrison will conduct more research beginning in July. The two will study how stored-product beetles and microbes interact to ruin harvested grains.

“Every year after harvest, we lose anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of our food commodities,” Morrison said. In addition to the U.S., “if you look at some developing countries, this means about $100 billion in commodities are lost every year. Marco’s project has global ramifications. If he can find some of the attractants useful for (pest) management, that will go a long way toward ensuring less pest damage and making agriculture more sustainable.”

Ponce is the second Kalamazoo College student in as many years to earn a prestigious NSF Graduate Fellowship.

“When he was selected, he was up against some students who already are in their graduate programs,” said Biology Professor Ann Fraser, Ponce’s academic adviser. “It’s always gratifying to see students take an interest in science, even if they just make a hobby out of it. But it’s especially rewarding for me to see students go into entomology. There are so many opportunities to get involved in entomology because insects affect our lives in so many ways.”

NSF Graduate Fellow Marco Ponce standing with thumbs up in a field
Marco Ponce ’19 will attend Kansas State University through an NSF Graduate Fellowship beginning this fall.

Ponce and Fraser got to know each other when Ponce was reconsidering his pre-med path. His classes helped him realize he could seek other opportunities in science, and he found the best opportunity in Fraser’s entomology lab.

“That was the transition for me,” Ponce said, admitting his first year at K was difficult, especially as English was his second language, having grown up primarily in Tijuana, Mexico. “I considered changing majors until I saw the email from Dr. Fraser inviting me into her lab. I was surprised because I wasn’t the best academically at the time. It’s one of the reasons why I’m still here: I found my passion.”

Ponce first performed research in Fraser’s lab with painted lady butterflies, a species common in all climates throughout the world. His work analyzed how their antennae responded to different odors produced by flowers compared to those produced by potential predators such as ants, and Fraser was thrilled with his work.

A college track, though, wasn’t always in Ponce’s view. At one point, Ponce expected to join the work force immediately after high school when Pablo Roncoroni, his high school teacher, took him under his wing and helped him navigate the college application process. As a result, not only did Ponce find K, but so did five other students from that high school who since have followed in his footsteps.

The support of teachers and mentors has led Ponce to a place where his research and passion can benefit others around the world including in his backyard. As co-founder of the College’s Entomology Club, he’ll soon start working with that group to inspire students at Kalamazoo’s El Sol Elementary, with a goal of introducing students to science in a different, more hands-on way.

“Marco is very creative,” Fraser said. “I invited him into my lab because he is such an original thinker and he has a great science mind. He is a real ambassador of science.”

Luce Fellowship Fuels K Student’s Health-Career Goals

Luce Fellowship Recipient Anthony Diep Rosas
Anthony Diep Rosas ’19 is Kalamazoo College’s first Luce Fellowship recipient.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Bensel.

Anthony Diep Rosas ’19 has accomplished an impressive first for a Kalamazoo College student, earning a prestigious Luce Fellowship that will enable him to live and work in Asia, furthering personal and professional aspirations to improve public health.

Launched by the Henry Luce Foundation, the nationally competitive Luce Scholars Program offers funds, language education and individualized professional placement in Asia for 15 to 18 scholars each year. The program is designed to enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society.

This year, Diep Rosas was one of 18 students chosen from 162 applicants. The program attracts applications from college seniors, graduate students and young professionals in many fields who have had limited exposure to Asia. Diep Rosas will hear official word of where he will go as a Luce Scholar in the next couple of months and then spend a year abroad after an eight-day orientation in New York City, which is scheduled after graduation in June.

“For me, there’s beauty in not knowing what to expect,” Diep Rosas said of the uncertainty regarding his destination. “Coming from Los Angeles, especially Compton, to a place like Kalamazoo—it was such a huge shift. K taught me how to be uncomfortable and learn what it means to connect with a different environment. As a result, I appreciate and value difference as a way to catalyze change.”

The change Diep Rosas seeks involves better health outcomes for underserved communities in the U.S., especially communities of color. During his time abroad, he plans to explore how his assigned community in Asia engages its people in developing policies that serve their local needs, an experience he expects will strengthen his efforts at home. After his Luce year, he plans to study medicine and public policy in graduate school. There he hopes to holistically address health disparities by working with patients and community members to tackle the underlying systemic issues that contribute to patient health through equitable policy change.

As a Luce scholar, “I will be able to learn what it means to listen to folks in the community,” said Diep Rosas, a biology major with a concentration in community and global health. “This will teach me to know what it means to build connections. That’s special about Luce. It will do an amazing job helping me learn what it means to champion vulnerability and listen.”

Diep Rosas first came to K as a Posse Scholar, one of 10 students to attend that year from Los Angeles through the Posse Foundation, which provides scholarships and support to outstanding student leaders from diverse backgrounds. Upon learning about Kalamazoo College as a Posse nominee, Diep Rosas was enamored with its name and intrigued by its small-school environment that nurtures community and offers study abroad opportunities.

In his time at K, Diep Rosas has amassed an impressive resume. Among his accomplishments, he works as an administrative assistant with Director of Faculty Grants and Institutional Research Anne Dueweke, Assistant Professor of Sociology Francisco Villegas and Director of Intercultural Student Life Natalia Carvalho-Pinto on beginning qualitative research regarding the racial climate on campus. He received the U.S. Gilman Scholarship to study abroad in Costa Rica. In the Kalamazoo community, he worked with Cradle Kalamazoo and Eliminating Racism and Creating/Celebrating Equity (ERACCE) to reduce Black infant mortality and promote respect for families, women and their children. Diep Rosas was one of the first research fellows at the Arcus Center for Social Justice and he co-founded the Minority Association for Pre-Health Students for students of color with pre-health majors. He served English Professor Bruce Mills as a teaching assistant and Residential Life as a resident assistant. He was also awarded the Jon L. Stryker Future Leaders scholarship, and was recently recognized at the annual Senior Leadership Recognition Awards.

Diep Rosas credits people and resources including Dueweke, his recommenders and mentors, the Intercultural Center, the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, and the Center for International Programs for their work in helping him receive these opportunities, the Luce Fellowship in particular. These opportunities have “inspired me to have a vision for K after I graduate,” Diep Rosas said. “I think about my own story and where I would be had I not gone to K, because K has provided me with the support and resources I’ve needed. I would love to support others, and I would encourage them to reach out to me and [Dueweke] about the Luce Fellowship program especially, because I think it speaks loudly to how K nurtures a student’s education.”

Professor’s Project Promotes Pollinators, Begets Buzz

pollinators
Alexa Dulmage ’21 (left) is among the students who help Kalamazoo College Biology Professor Ann Fraser (right) support pollinators and sample bee diversity at Lillian Anderson Arboretum.

Kalamazoo College Biology Professor Ann Fraser is hoping to create some buzz with her latest project at the Lillian Anderson Arboretum.

Part of her project aims to sustain more pollinators such as bees after a perceived decline in the state’s pollinator population since the 1990s. The Kalamazoo Community Foundation is providing support of $7,000 from the Love Where You Live Environment Fund toward Fraser’s project, which will help her and K students create:

  • a better food supply for pollinators by planting the wildflowers they desire;
  • an improved nesting habitat often consisting of clear ground; and
  • an information campaign that will encourage southwest Michigan residents to use fewer pesticides, especially in their yards and homes.
Pollinators
Erik Funke ’19 helps Biology Professor Ann Fraser support pollinators and sample bee diversity at Lillian Anderson Arboretum.

The rest of Fraser’s project, supported by Kalamazoo College, will develop protocols for bumble-bee monitoring that K students and local citizen scientists can use at nature preserves through collaborations with the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. Fraser said about 465 types of bees are native to Michigan including nearly 100 at the arboretum.

“This will help us develop some long-term monitoring so we can record populations year after year to spot declines as they’re beginning to happen,” Fraser said, noting that these studies involve wild bees, not bees maintained in hives. That means it’s important to maintain food supplies and nesting areas rather than hives.

“There have been European studies that have shown significant declines in insect populations,” she added. “But without our own measurements, we can only ask, ‘is it true?’ Empirical evidence will call us to act.”

pollinators
Aya Abe ’16 was among the students who helped Biology Professor Ann Fraser support pollinators and sample bee diversity at Lillian Anderson Arboretum.

That action would be important assuming a population decline because “bees are the most important pollinators of plants,” Fraser said. “Without bees, plants don’t reproduce. Fruit crops rely on pollinators and losing pollinators will affect our food supply.”

As a result, “this support from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation is a wonderful gift,” Fraser said. “It’s the catalyst we’ve needed to get it off the ground.”

Fraser has been a professor at K since 2003. She normally teaches introductory biology, entomology, animal behavior and chemical ecology courses, although she is taking a two-term sabbatical. With that time, she will study similar successful projects executed through schools such as the University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois.

Fraser said other projects have also grown locally, including one last year along Drake Road in Oshtemo Township. Part of Fraser’s research will examine whether the Lillian Anderson Arboretum project benefits pollinators by continuing to survey bee populations pre- and post-habitat enrichment. Her own teams will start preparing areas at the arboretum for planting this spring and summer before planting begins in fall.

Community members and students looking to contribute to educational, awareness and research efforts should stay tuned for more information on how to volunteer as plans develop.