Undergraduate research in invertebrate zoology via a new digital imaging and web-based publication infrastructure

Jun 30, 2009 by Ph.D Nico Franz

Students will be trained in modern techniques used for collecting, processing, identifying, and imaging a range of common groups of invertebrate taxa that occur in Puerto Rico, and specifically in the vicinity of the UPRM campus. They will be introduced to key concepts and practices used in modern systematic research, including the production of high-quality digital images of specimens, the use of interactive electronic keys for identifying invertebrate taxa, and the production of web-based species pages. The traditional BIOL 3425 laboratory sessions place little emphasis on training students in modern systematic methods and field- and specimen-based research, to the point that students remain unaware that systematics is a vibrant area of research, particularly so in the Neotropics where UPRM is located. The acquisition of new equipment and materials will facilitate hands-on training in collecting methods in the nearby Miradero Forest, as well as specimen processing and identification using both paper and electronic resources. Students will actively participate in the process of producing high-quality images of specimens, and learn to identify these with the aid of interactive keys. These hands-on experiences will lead to an improved understanding of the significance of systematic research, with special focus on the local invertebrate fauna. Student teams will collect invertebrate specimens in the forest and river habitats adjacent to the Biology Department. They will initially identify to the taxonomic levels of phyla and classes using the available teaching collection. They will mount and label all specimens and store them for subsequent processing. Student teams will undertake detailed specimen observations and image production. Each student team will specialize on a series of specimens and species pertaining to a particular invertebrate lineage, identify their diagnostic structures using stereomicroscopes, and prepare several specimens for scientific imaging with the Microptics system. Using both print and digital resources, as well as the UPRM Invertebrate Collection, the teams will then describe the diagnostic features and taxonomic variation displayed in the images they have produced. Each student team will introduce their taxon using the Microptics images. A wide range of Puerto Rican invertebrates will be identified to the level of family and beyond using interactive Lucid keys prepared by students who completed the advanced course. A questionnaire on research content, skills, tools and techniques will be offered on the first day of lab and after completing the lab module.

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