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Communications and Marketing

Biology major works on vital conservation program over summer

Anissa Loyola ’18 worked as a summer field technician at the Lake County Forest Preserve to preserve a local endangered species and gain vital fieldwork experience.

The biology major shared highlights of her internship with the major conservation program, which, she said, will help her graduate school applications.

What did you do as a field technician?

I worked with Blanding’s turtles, which are considered endangered in the Midwest. I spent most of my summer in two wetland habitats, where I helped with population recovery of the species. Using transmitters attached to their shells, I tracked turtle location and behavior, recording the data and analytical use to understand their home range. Apart from tracking, we also tried to find unrecorded turtles. Capturing new turtles for the year is important because it signifies population growth and diversity. I learned that  the turtle population is thriving and that this job requires a lot of hiking and minding the weather.  

What was the most important part of your job?

The most important task was nesting season. During that time, we kept track of who was gravid—carrying eggs—and when and where they laid their eggs. The team alternated between day and night shifts. The day shift located where the turtles were and the night shift followed them to observe egg-laying. Throughout this time, it was very important to record the nests. Because the turtles are endangered, survival of the nests is critical. Although we let most of the turtles lay their eggs in the wild, we also took a handful to a different facility to induce labor and incubate the eggs. Caring for these eggs in the lab guarantees survival. The baby turtles—called headstarts—are cared for indoors for one year and then released back into their habitat. The headstarts usually hatch in September and are released in April.

What did you learn about Blanding’s turtles through this opportunity?

I learned so much about their physiology, natural history, and their behavior. The coolest thing I learned was that the females store sperm from multiple males and, during nesting season, they choose which sperm to use. In class, we learned that storing sperm was a rare behavior, so seeing that in real life was pretty cool.

What other hands-on work experience have you had?

I’ve been volunteering at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago since my sophomore year, and I also interned there for a semester. I’m glad that I was able to expand my skills from marine biology to wildlife sciences, which I can potentially use to my advantage.

What role will these hands-on experiences mean for your future?

All my internships will help me land a job, but the Blanding’s internship will help me establish my career. The research experience and field work is exactly what I needed on my resume for a better chance of getting into grad school. Now, I am able to say that I have field work experience, and conservation research experience. 

What are your plans for the future?

I plan on doing more research after graduating in December, which will further boost my chances of getting into grad school in 2020. I hope to focus my research on ecology and evolution.