Most readers of this blog know that Snapshot Wisconsin brings together people from around the globe who share an interest in classifying Wisconsin’s extraordinary wildlife. In addition to building connections with volunteers, Snapshot Wisconsin works to form connections with organizations, such as the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF). This non-profit organization’s Diversity in Conservation Internship Program aims to introduce a diverse group of undergraduates to the many career paths in conservation. This summer, Snapshot is hosting one of the seven NRF interns, Mira Johnson.
Hello, my name is Mira, and I have been working with the Snapshot team over the last couple of months. During my time here, I have assisted in daily tasks like preparing equipment for volunteers and moderating Zooniverse. What’s more, I have had the remarkable opportunity to work on individual projects, like designing graphics for volunteer outreach materials, carrying out a small research study, and publishing this blog post! Last spring, I designed and conducted a small research project with two other students on an island called Bonaire. From this experience, I became more interested in learning how observational studies can be designed to reduce confounding variables, as that was a concern apparent in our study. This summer’s internship, spent immersed in the many projects underway at the DNR and being mentored by a research and data scientist, promises to significantly grow and deepen my understanding of reliable research practices.
Please allow me to share little about myself and my experience in Bonaire that I mentioned previously. I am a junior at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, majoring in biology with a focus on marine systems. My interest in marine life began over many visits to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and tidepools of California with my grandfather. My growing fascination with marine life eventually led me to apply for the Lawrence University Marine Program in 2021. I was accepted, and in the Spring of 2022, fifteen students and I traveled to the island of Bonaire in the Southern Caribbean.
Over the two weeks in Bonaire, we surveyed reefs for biodiversity and conducted our small group research projects. Although I had been eagerly anticipating this trip for over a year, when the day finally arrived for our first dive, I was pretty nervous! I grew up in the Midwest, and my previous dive experience was limited to diving a couple of times in the murky lakes of Minnesota when I received my SCUBA certification. This resulted in a first dive where my eyes were mostly glued to my depth gauge and air supply. It wasn’t long however before the tension began to wash away as I glided across the reef identifying the vibrant life below.
Once everyone became comfortable with diving, we surveyed for coral biodiversity using chain transects. This method involved long periods of hovering above the reef as we waited while the videographer swam along each chain. It was during moments like these that we could attentively inspect and appreciate the marine life around us. As we hung neutrally buoyant, I was able to spot some of the reef’s shyer species, like the Queen Angelfish, the Chain Moray, and the Spotted Drum.
When we were not performing chain transects, we were out gathering data for our small group research projects. My group chose to conduct a study on locations on the reef where cleaning behavior (a mutualistic interaction where cleaner fish remove ectoparasites from client fish) between fish occur. Our experiment looked at sites where cleaning interactions took place, which led to an interesting finding that most client fish were cleaned above corals (as opposed to over sponges, anemones, or neither). It was when arriving at the analysis and interpretation stage of our study that we realized that various interpretations could be made, including some valid opposing arguments. With this experience I began to realize the importance of a well-designed study, and this pushed me to want to learn more about reliable research practices.
As I work on my small research project using the Snapshot Wisconsin database, I am learning ways in which I can develop a well-designed study. Anticipating problems and biases that might arise in the analysis stage is extremely valuable in correctly interpreting the results. In the planning stage, I have observed that involving a diverse group of people early on is helpful, as a data scientist might foresee analytical problems that a research scientist may not, and vice versa. It is exciting to see the values of the NRF Diversity in Conservation Internship Program in action during my time here with Snapshot Wisconsin, and I have enjoyed contributing to the team. All this said, I look forward to continuing to engage with the Snapshot Wisconsin project and interacting with you all on Zooniverse!