Published: Sept. 9, 2015

After spending a few years working in a business career after graduating from Texas Tech University, I decided to take a leap and follow my passion for nature. Becoming an EBIO student meant that I could gain the experience I needed to follow my dream of a career in ecology and conservation. Knowing that my time in this degree was limited, I set out during my first week of class at CU to find a lab to work in where I could gain hands-on experience. Through contacting my TA, Geoff Legault, I soon landed a position with the Melbourne lab, assisting Dr. Caroline Tucker with an experiment analyzing maternal effects and temperature variation on the zooplankton, Daphnia. It is here that I first learned what it was like to work in a lab centered on ecology.

daphnia zooplankton with vorticella

After volunteering two semesters with various experiments about this organism, I applied for a BURST grant. Being awarded this grant has allowed me to participate in further field and lab research. Working with Dr. Tucker, Geoff, and another undergraduate assistant, Reese Beeler, we netted invertebrate species from different freshwater ponds along an elevation gradient in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains over the last summer. With these samples, Reese and I learned how to identify zooplankton species present and to culture the field samples for future lab experiments. What I soon discovered was an interesting interspecific relationship between zooplankton and a ciliate known as Vorticella. In a few ponds, this species was found attached to the zooplankton. By hitch-hiking on the zooplankton, the Vorticella had better access to food in the water. The discovery of this interaction became a key inspiration for my honors experiment which investigates how population dynamics are affected by temperature and competition. As I move into my final year here at CU, I am amazed at the opportunities I have had thanks to getting involved with research in a lab.