CWI Biology Students Answer Question about Mollusks

Photo of Steve Lysne
Author: Steve Lysne
Published: April 29, 2016

Do Travertine Springs limit the distribution of an invasive mollusk in Eastern Idaho?

The answer appears to be “NO,” at least that’s how we see it today. Three CWI students will discuss this question, and their findings, when they present the results of their year-long project next Saturday, May 7th at the College of Idaho Undergraduate Research Conference in Caldwell. The student researchers are (in alphabetical order): Jennifer Hines, Tabor Hoxsey, and Kassandra Townsend. All three were highlighted previously in a CWI Blog post. Dr. Steven Lysne, Assistant Professor of Biology, supervised the students’ work: “This is an amazing opportunity for these young scientists. All three of them have done a great job embracing our research question, doing the tedious work in lab, and developing their scientific skill-sets.”

The idea for a collaboration was developed by Tom Woolf, the Invasive Species Coordinator for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. He noticed an interesting pattern in how the non-native and invasive New Zealand mudsnail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) was distributed in Fall Creek; a tributary to the Snake River near Palisades Reservoir in eastern Idaho. Tom thought that perhaps the travertine springs nearby contained some minerals the precluded the mudsnail from establishing residency in that area. He and a colleague at Department of Agriculture spent a day collecting invertebrate samples and water samples from Fall Creek that would be sent to CWI and the State lab for analysis. The invertebrate animals were sorted from the non-living debris in samples and then identified to the lowest level possible; usually species for all but a few specimens. The water was analyzed for its chemical composition including variables like calcium, copper, nitrogen, potassium, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc. All of this data was fed into a statistical software application for analysis by Dr. Lysne.

“Our students collected and identified over 15,000 invertebrate animals! They used the tools that I use in the field of invertebrate zoology and they were given the opportunity, within an authentic research project, to struggle with interpreting the information collected; just like in the real world.” While there were not any conclusive answers to the original research question regarding the invasive animal’s anomalous distribution in Fall Creek, the research did spin off several new hypotheses and projects to be addressed by future students. Professor Lysne summarizes the project like this: “My research on invertebrate zoology will not cure cancer or fix global climate change, but it is important; particularly for natural resource managers here in Idaho. Projects like this just wouldn’t get done without the help of our students and engaging them in research is a high-impact practice that we’ve embraced in the Department of Life Sciences.” This collaboration represents the intersection of need and opportunity and is a win-win for all involved. Thanks to everyone that contributed to the success of this project: Tom Woolf and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, the College of Western Idaho, the U.S. Department of Education, Professor Bryan Krouse, Ann Potcher, and Vince Edwards.   

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