The Final Post: Concluding my research, but not my promotion of ecotherapy

Alongside my research with Dr. Ibes at the Parks Research Lab, I have been interning for Wildrock Nature Playscape, a non-profit in Crozet, Virginia. Via this internship, I will be leading an ecotherapy retreat for college students. The goal of this retreat is to teach college students what ecotherapy is, and then help them plan an ecotherapy initiative on their college campus. For more information, please contact me at dcspitz@email.wm.edu, as William & Mary students are welcome on this retreat. Most major schools in Virginia will eventually feature an ecotherapy initiative on their campus. Thus, my research at the Parks Research Lab this summer has aided me in promoting ecotherapy to others.

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Reaching out to the community – surveys

With less than a week before I fly back to America, I can safely say that I’m very happy with the work I have done here at Scotland’s Rural College. Over the last couple of weeks I have left the construction of my paper on the back burner for now so that I can dedicate time to collecting the data I need for it, which is really exciting! With the guidance of my advisor here at the college, I crafted a survey to send out to agricultural advisors in order to gather their opinions of food production and the environment. Dr. Barnes made a similar survey which has previously been sent out to farmers, and so the questions were only slightly modified in order for us to get parallel information which will let us directly compare the opinions of farmers and their advisors. In this way we can get a sense of whether these two groups, which should be working in tandem, actually see things the same, or if there are major differences which could be hindering the uptake of sustainable agricultural practices. The survey was sent off this morning, so now all that’s to be done is wait until people start responding! While I only have a few more days to work with Dr. Barnes in person, I will still be a part of the team even while back in America so that I can help analyse the data and then finish the paper I started less than 2 months ago. It will be incredibly satisfying to see this project through to the end and I am excited to see what data we get and what it can tell us about the future of sustainable farming.

Labwork (PCR)

Following DNA extractions, it was time for amplification of DNA through Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). PCR amplifies the DNA by denaturing, copying, and synthesizing over and over again. Denaturing occurs via temperature, first during the DNA extraction process, and thenĀ again using the Thermocline machine (or PCR machine). The thermocline helps to regulate temperature allowing for PCR to go through its different steps, such as synthesis or denaturing. Synthesis occurs using a special polymerase Taq.

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Labwork

Following the collection of data and samples, it was time for lab work to begin. The first step of my procedure was DNA extractions. With around 800 plant samples, I quickly realized financially and time wise doing all 800 would not be practical. This led to many discussions on how to subsample. Was it better to do more transects, with fewer plants from each transect? More plants, with fewer coverage of overall transects? How do you account for the difference in densities between transects? Overtime, with more and more discussions, it became clear that sampling more transects would be a better option, even if that meant fewer plants per transect. Additionally, for any transect with ~30 or fewer plants, the entire transect would be sampled. For any plant over that, a subsample would be done using a random number generator to randomly select which plants should be extracted.

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Fieldwork

The month of June was predominantly spent on fieldwork and preparation for fieldwork. Preparation included obtaining materials, packing and planning ahead for the visits. There are 5 sites for field work: Presquile National Wildlife Reserve (PWR), Blandy Meadows (BLD-M), Blandy Thistle Thicket (BLD-T), Sky Meadows (SKY), and Greenspring (GRN). For PWR, BLD-M, BLD-T, and SKY, overnight visits were required. We were fortunate enough to have access to research housing for all of these. PWR is an island so that required intensive planning as nothing could be forgotten. Once we arrived at each site, we jumped right into fieldwork. [Read more…]