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2022 Focus Group Information Coming Soon

2019 Focus Groups

A Backbone for Conservation

Dr. Joe Poston

Vertebrates, animals with backbones, come in all shapes and sizes and they include animals that are active at all times of day and all times of year. This variety of behavior makes it challenging to study vertebrates in the wild. In addition, many vertebrates are endangered because of human actions. Consequently, it is even more important to study wild vertebrate populations to help us make decisions about how to improve their chances of surviving. In this module, you will learn some of the techniques that scientists use to study populations of vertebrates in the wild. We will study animals that are active during the day and animals that are active at night. If you have a sense of adventure, and a willingness to get dirty, then you have a backbone for conservation.

Environmental Health Investigators

Dr. Carmony L. Hartwig 

Environmental health is an important and rapidly growing field that intertwines several aspects of science including ecology, biology, chemistry and bioengineering. The overall health of an environment can be assessed by investigating the invertebrate diversity and abundance in a given area, and can provide important information as to the health of the surrounding ecosystem. In this focus group we will discuss the basic biology of select invertebrate species, as well as learn the techniques associated with collection and surveillance measures that investigators employ in the field. We will discuss the benefits of invertebrates to the overall health of an ecosystem, as well as how climate change may affect the diversity and abundance of these populations. We will spend most our time exploring the ecological preserve, and learn simple, hands-on ways we can influence invertebrate population dynamics in our community in the face of global environmental change. We will additionally spend a portion of our time in the laboratory, identifying collections and conducting molecular assays used by environmental health specialists.  


Invasive Alien Plants and Animals: Friend or Foe to the Environment?

Dr. Jay F. Bolin

Alien invasive species are considered one of the top threats to biodiversity on the planet. First this focus group intends to provide an introduction to the value of organismal biodiversity, from ecosystem services to the intrinsic value provided by diverse communities of plants and animals. Then we will discuss and learn (in the field) about how invasive organisms arrive in new habitats and the negative impacts invasive species may have on native biodiversity. However the positive impacts in terms of ecosystem services (e.g. Asiatic clams filtering the water column, Kudzu serving as forage for endangered butterflies) of invasive species will also be underscored because in some environments, such as urban parks, invasive species are ubiquitous and are here to stay. We will use Kudzu (and/or Chinese Wisteria) and Asiatic Clams in the Catawba Ecological Preserve as model organisms, and more than half of the session will be spent in the preserve, quantifying the magnitude of the invasions using field sampling techniques and work to identify potential solutions or recommendations to control or use invasive species productively (as in eating Kudzu!).

Explorations in Environmental Art

Ashley Pierce

How can art change the world? When it expresses an idea? When it starts a larger conversation outside of itself? Art is not just fun, but also an important way to reach the world with a message.

In the Explorations in Environmental Art focus group, members will engage with a series of fast and fun daily activities in visual art. The art studio is a place to build a small community, connect to one another and to the world through creative exploration. We will engage with a wide variety of art processes to include: using repurposed and recycled materials, making monoprints with leaves, learning the basics of silkscreen printing and t-shirt transfers, as well as exploring the famous environmental art of Andy Goldsworthy! Indoor and outdoor activities will be incorporated into this session. In this focus group, members will leverage their interest in art to change the world! We will discuss compositional techniques to engage the viewer as well as how an image can give a visual voice to environmental concepts. Each visual artwork can bring attention to a specific environmental concern. On completion of this focus group students will have sharpened visual art skills along with powerful resulting art objects to take with them.

The Butterfly Effect

Lisa Pope

Butterflies are important, both in their own right, but also as quality of life indicators. They are an important group of model organisms used by ecologists as indicators of healthy ecosystems and changing environmental conditions.

Students will participate in a national field survey of butterfly populations and associated habitats. They will learn research skills and methods used in obtaining data from various butterfly species, including: Capture, proper handling and release, identification, weighing, tagging, obtaining samples from abdominal scales to test for parasitic behaviors, and photographic techniques.

Students will learn more about butterfly navigation, mimicry, environmental benefits, population dynamics and biodiversity conservation, and create extraordinary images from the brilliant patterns found on the wings of butterflies!

Can Technology Save Biodiversity?

Dr. Andrew Jacobson

Planet Earth is on the cusp of the 6th great mass extinction. But this one is driven not by natural or extra-terrestrial processes, but by humanity. Humanity continues to grow and spread its influence across the world. Every inch of the planet is affected, from deforestation in the Amazon, microplastics in ocean trenches, or changing climates at the poles. Technology will either assist in minimizing our influence on the world, or magnify our impact. This focus group will explore the potential for emerging technologies to help save biodiversity and avert an impending extinction crisis. We will briefly discuss the primary causes of biodiversity loss before diving into emerging technologies that address each driver of loss. For example, drones and satellites are greatly enhancing our ability to monitor the earth, while Artificial Intelligence is allowing us to make sense of Big Data. We will have a chance to play with two emerging technologies – camera traps and drones – as we explore these issues. We may wrap up by conceptualizing new technology or identifying gaps in technology application that could address the biodiversity crisis.

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