|Homecoming Botany Trip Brings Help to an Alumna Biologist
September 24, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
Circumstances of deer season, the impending leaf drop at high elevations, and conflicts with religious holidays forced Professor Pat Peroni to schedule an off- campus expedition with her biology class over Davidson's Homecoming Weekend.
|On a recent field trip in Davidson's Ecological Preserve, members of the dendrology class pose on a fallen tree. They are (l-r) Carolyn Kiss ‘08, Esther Cline ‘09, Grant Connette ‘08, Sam Sheline ‘10, Pat Peroni, and Katie Busch ‘09.|
Instead of enjoying campus festivities, she and her five students travelled to the University of Virginia's Mountain Lake Biological Station to study trees and shrubs (the botanical science of “dendrology”).
Happily, circumstances produced a mini Davidson Homecoming after all!
Peroni arranged before leaving to share the class’s Friday dinner at the station with Kristine Grayson ’03, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at the University of Virginia. Grayson had been living there for a few months conducting research into the life history characteristics of spotted newts.
One of her experiments involves thirty-six approximately 8-foot by 3-foot by 3-foot mesh enclosures for the newts that project into the station’s pond. Grayson uses the enclosures to monitor which adult newts remain in the aquatic form in the pond during the winter, and which undergo reversible physiological and morphological changes that allow them to spend the winter in terrestrial habitats. Newts that remain in the water face low predation rates, but may succumb to oxygen deprivation, while those that spend the winter on land face higher predation rates, but do not run the risk of oxygen deprivation.
Grayson, who graduated from Davidson with high honors in biology, won a highly competitive NSF Graduate Fellowship for her work. The project was also featured in the October 2007 issue of the University of Virginia alumni magazine. Grayson will visit Davidson in mid-October to describe her work to a biology class.
During their dinner, Grayson asked if the Davidson group would help her pull the heavy enclosures out of the water and up a steep slope onto land to collect the remaining newts. Grayson had also recruited some Saturday morning help from several volunteers led by Sarah Budischak ’05, who is completing her master’s degree in wildlife biology at Virginia Tech.
Budischak’s group only had time Saturday morning to pull in eighteen of the enclosures before their departure. Peroni and her class spent the morning studying trees in the surrounding forest, and then returned to the station to help Grayson finish the job. Peroni and students Katie Busch ‘09, Esther Cline ’09, Grant Connette ‘08, Carolyn Kiss ‘08, and Sam Sheline ‘10 donned chest waders and helped the very grateful alumnus haul in the remaining 18 enclosures and collect the newts. They then changed out of the waders and strolled the station’s extensive trail system to collect further specimens for the herbarium collections that they must compile for the course.
|Professor Peroni points out characteristics of leaves to her students.|
Peroni chalked up the hard work not only as a good deed for a fellow Wildcat, but as payback for curricular innovation. Grayson was the person responsible for the inception of the dendrology course, having convinced Peroni to teach it to her as an independent study. This semester’s offering is the second time Peroni has taught it as a group investigations course since then.
The class work this semester will also include another public service project, as they assist the Town of Davidson with a tree inventory project.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz