Katie Grabowski, 2016, Civil and Environmental Engineering

I spent this summer at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya. This was my first opportunity to do field research, and I was fortunate to be able to assist with two research projects. The first project involved working with Tyler Coverdale, an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) PhD candidate. We looked at the genus Barleria, a spiny shrub found in African savannas. We asked how the plant decides whether to invest more in protection or growth. To answer this question, we gathered data on several aspects of the plant’s size and defenses in different sub habitats (for example, in a protected enclosure or associated with a spiny tree versus out in the open). The second project involved looking at ecosystem spatial patterning. We looked at termite mounds and how the productivity of an area varies in correlation with its nearness to the closest mound. There are also many other factors that affect this patterning, and we are working to model the ecosystem better so that its response to future climate events might be better predicted. I learned how to set up experiments and collect data in the field. I know that this experience will be invaluable when I start work on my senior thesis.