The majority of wetland habitat in the Midwest has been drained for agriculture and development. Of the wetlands that remain, quaking bogs are among the most unique and beautiful. Plants- even tamarack trees- grow on a floating mat of Sphagnum moss, which rises and falls with water levels. Microscopic organisms, about which little is known, also live on the floating moss. These small flora and fauna include sponges, a primitive animal that is well studied in oceans but not in freshwater habitats. Species new to science, including single-celled protists such as algae and amoebae, have also been recently discovered living on Sphagnum. Students and I recently characterized the microscopic flora and fauna living on Sphagnum moss. In addition to collecting modern samples of Sphagnum from bogs in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana, we examined Sphagnum samples collected for over one hundred years that are held in the Field Museum of Natural History’s collection.
FRESHWATER SPONGE TAXONOMY:
Although common in aquatic habitats in the Midwest, freshwater sponges are understudied due to lack of knowledge of the microscopic features that allow species to be differentiated. Thus, I am collecting sponges from local rivers, lakes, and wetlands and quantifying the variation in morphological characteristics. In addition, I am supervising a group of NEIU students who are identifying to species the freshwater sponges held in the Field Museum of Natural History’s collection. Currently, the Field Museum’s freshwater sponge collection is difficult for the research community to access, because the majority of their specimens have not been identified to species. My students are currently making microscope slides of Field Museum specimens and measuring microscopic features useful in the taxonomical identification of species.
BIOLOGICAL INDICATORS OF WATER QUALITY:
As sessile aquatic invertebrates, native freshwater mussels and sponges have potential for use as biological indicators. Because they live on the river bottom and are filter feeders, they are affected by both habitat degradation and water quality. In addition, both mussels and sponges leave resistant remains in the sediment that provide a historical record. With collaborators Laura Sanders and Jean Hemzacek in the Department of Earth Sciences, we conducted field work with Biology, Earth Science, and Environmental Science students during the summer of 2018 to search for native mussels and sponges in the Chicago River. According to a biological index developed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, our data indicate a water quality value of moderate, which is promising for a river in a major metropolitan area such as Chicago. Our study was supported by a pilot grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.
SCIENTIFIC MODELING IN EDUCATION:
Introductory biology students seldom have the opportunity to build or modify scientific models, despite their importance in bioscience research. Thus, I am developing educational activities for beginning students who are new to modeling. With support from a STEM+C grant from the National Science Foundation, I worked with a group of biology, computer science, math, and education students to create a NetLogo (https://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/) simulation that applies the Susceptible-Infected-Recovered (SIR) model, commonly utilized by public health officials to predict the spread of disease, to simulate a mosquito-borne viral outbreak. Our simulation is currently being used in BIOS 110: Introduction to Biology for Educators, to give future teachers experience with scientific modeling. In addition to using the simulation to test disease-causing scenarios, students can expand upon the model by writing computer code. It is thus an excellent exercise to show students how computer modeling and simulation is used to examine biological systems.
Ph.D., Environmental Biology, University of Louisville
B.S., Biology, University of Notre Dame
Slate, J. E., Adler, R. F., Hibdon Jr., J. E., Mayle, S. T., Kim, H., and Srinivas, S. 2019. A multidisciplinary approach to incorporating computational thinking in STEM courses for preservice teachers. In (R. M. Reardon & J. Leonard, eds) Integrating Digital Technology in Education, Information Age Publishing Inc.: Charlotte, NC.
Northeastern Illinois University
5500 North St Louis Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
Mondays: 10-11 a.m.
Tuesdays: 4:15-5:15 p.m.
Wednesdays: 2:30-3:30 p.m.
Thursdays: 2-3 p.m.