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NSU student conducts biology research in Costa Rica

(Tahlequah, Okla.)—Caddisflies, not scenic skies, drew Katherine Stewart to the tropical paradise of Costa Rica this summer. The Northeastern State University biology major’s research study, conducted with assistance from a mentor, sought to determine the effect of deforestation on these moth-like insects. Stewart’s research trip to Costa Rica from June 6 – August 1 was conducted through the Organization for Tropical Studies.

“I wanted to determine whether an increase in water temperature could result in mortality or affect the behavior of caddisfly larvae,” Stewart said. “This was an outstanding opportunity to go outside and get some field experience.”

Stewart, a senior from Haskell, was one of 17 students chosen to participate in the OTS Native American and Pacific Islanders Research Experiences. NAPIRE is supported by the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program through the National Science Foundation.

Each year the program sends students to Costa Rica to conduct field experiments in a tropical climate. The students each complete a scientific study.

“Everyone picked their own project, was assigned a mentor and came up with a research plan,” Stewart said. “These were our projects from beginning to end and we did basically whatever we wanted to do.”

Stewart’s research determined that loss of forest over waterways adversely affected caddisfly habitat.

“When a lot of trees are cleared it can result in more direct sunlight and in increase in water temperature,” she said. “The findings of the study indicated that an increase of 3-5 degrees was fatal to the larvae. It also determined that the average increase in water temperature after loss of canopy was 7 degrees.”

With familial responsibilities, Stewart said she was unsure she could spend two months in Central America. She expressed thanks to NSU faculty who encouraged her to participate in the program.

“Dr. Jessica Martin [assistant professor of chemistry] and Dr. Jody Buckholtz [chemistry instructor] were both very supportive,” Stewart said. “I work for Dr. Martin and she had to do without me all summer. I also owe much to my sister, Sara Barnett-Flores [grant writer for research and sponsored programs], who informed me about the program.”

Stewart also encouraged other students to participate in OTS NAPIRE.

“American Indians are underrepresented in the research fields and this program works to change that,” she said. “The educational value of creating a research model and seeing it produce results was worth any hardship. I also had the opportunity to interact with Ph.D’s from all over the world. This was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.”

Visit the Organization for Tropical Studies website to learn more about OTS and its study programs.

Published: 9/1/2011 9:08:13 AM

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