Monday, July 7, 2014

A Tale of Many Water Samples

Name: Rachel Dalton
Class Year: 2016
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Internship: Conservation Science Research Intern, the Wilds
Location: Cumberland, OH

Amazingly, we are now in week 8 out of our 10 weeks here at the Wilds! I cannot believe how quickly time has gone. Our final few weeks will definitely be a sprint to the finish as the time for data collection finishes up and data analysis/Results & Discussion writing/poster & powerpoint making begins. During our last few weekly class sessions we have been learning how to use "R", a code-based statistics program, to analyze data. I found R a little intimidating initially, but I am becoming more comfortable with it. Here is a screenshot of what working in R looks like:

We have also been learning about some of the more advanced multivariate statistical tests, such as principle component analysis, analysis of similarity, etc. A lot of my fellow interns have studies that incorporate multiple environmental variables and call for these more intense, heavy-duty stats. They are a little more challenging to wrap your mind around, but I have read other primary literature papers that use them, so I thought it was really helpful to go over them and gain a better understanding of how they are used.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been collecting and filtering water samples from the lakes we are attempting to detect rhino eDNA in. Because we are trying to filter out any DNA or DNA-containing tissue fragments, the filters we use are quite intense in terms of their ability to catch very small particulate matter-- including any silt or dirt suspended in the water. As such, filtering is a quite time consuming step. This may sound less than thrilling to some, but, I recently discovered that there are a lot of David Attenborough documentaries on Netflix! So, while I am filtering for extended periods of time, I am also learning about humpback whales, wolves, birds of paradise, and much more. What zoology nerd does not love a good David Attenborough wildlife documentary? 

This week I will be collecting and filtering the last of the water samples we need, and then a plethora of DNA extraction and PCR work begins! I am really excited to see how far down the lake system we will be able to detect rhino eDNA. Not much eDNA work has been done with terrestrial mammals yet. 

One of the lakes in the rhino pastures that we sampled.

Here's one of the residents of the rhino pastures-- Sonya the Indian rhino. She was grazing a little distance away, looking over at us occasionally.

Here I am taking water samples from one of the wetlands!

Wading through wetlands in the name of science! I had a sampling site that was beyond this stream. 

The rushes and reeds around the wetlands are so tall! They often tower several feet above us.

PS: It's Mollie's birthday today! Happy Birthday Mollie!
I don't always have eDNA work to do everyday, so when this is the case, I often go out in the field with another intern assisting them with whatever they are surveying/studying. Mollie and I have logged quite a few hours trekking through the wilderness together now in search of the ever elusive terrestrial salamanders. Here's Mollie blazing a trail through some rather dense forest brush! 

My last round of filtering for the day is finishing as I type this, so I will leave you now with a few more facts about the Indian rhino. They are the largest of the three Asian rhino species (the other two species are the Sumatran and Javan rhinos), and are capable of reaching speeds of 30mph when charging. They have fairly poor eyesight, but excellent hearing and a very sharp sense of smell. 

Until next time,

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