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Black Hills State University students and faculty are taking part in a three-year research project funded by a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) about the geographic distribution of woodland birds. The students and Spellman are now designing genetic markers by sequencing large portions of the genomes of several bird species. Researchers include: Raeann Mettler, research associate; Andrew Elk Shoulder, pre-wildlife management major from Spearfish; Ronald Scott, senior biology major from Rosebud; Dr. Garth Spellman, assistant professor of biology; and Pankaj Mehrotra , a graduate student from Ghaziabad, India.
Black Hills State University has been awarded a $207,229 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to research the geographic distribution of woodland birds.

The project, "Collaborative Research: Multilocus Comparative Phylogeography of Pine-Oak Woodland Birds in North America," is under the direction of Dr. Garth Spellman, assistant professor of biology. The grant will provide unique opportunities for BHSU students to collaborate with students at two large urban universities: Harvard University and the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Spellman is already mentoring three BHSU undergraduate students in preliminary lab work and plans call for the addition of more students to be involved as the research progresses. The students and Spellman are now designing genetic markers by sequencing large portions of the genomes of several bird species.

“We will look closely at genomic variation in several species and use the genetic variation to tell us about their evolutionary history,” Spellman says.

Spellman along with researchers from the other universities will travel to the mountain ranges of Mexico to get additional genetic samples for the research. Spellman says that the second and third year of the grant will be used to finish all genetic lab work, analyze data, and publish results.

“Unique to this collaborative research effort is the ability of these students to work in a multi-institutional and multidisciplinary research effort between the three universities – BHSU, Harvard, and University of Nevada – Las Vegas.

“It’s really important for students, especially undergraduate science majors, to be involved in any research and this is a great opportunity for our students to conduct cutting edge research and to collaborate in a multi-institutional project,” Spellman says.

The research project includes several initiatives to include American Indians students as researchers at BHSU. Several American Indian biology majors at BHSU will be involved in the laboratory research.  In addition the researchers will develop a workshop, coordinated by Spellman and the Center for the Advancement of Math and Science Education at BHSU for high school science teachers from the rural and reservation communities of western South Dakota and possibly eastern Wyoming. The workshop will provide teachers with the knowledge and materials to integrate the results of this research into their curriculum and teach about climate change and its impact on biotic diversity.

Spellman noted that the research and scientific specimens collected as part of the research will be an integral part of the ongoing documentation of North American biodiversity and will be available as a valued resource for present and future generations of biologists.