By  | Michelle Coblens ’16
Portland, Oregon
Biology, Classics

 We found that we had discovered two new species of mite harvestmen. I had never expected to make a discovery like that as an undergrad.

Queensland, Australia. That’s where our team went to collect mite harvestmen, tiny arachnids that live in the soil beneath the leaf litter in the rain forest. With the specimens we collected, we tried to determine how many species of mite harvestmen there are in that part of the world. We looked at their shape and characteristics under the microscope and extracted their DNA and compared it to that of other specimens. Finally, we looked at the coordinates of where they were found.

We found that we had discovered two new species of mite harvestmen. I had never expected to make a discovery like that as an undergrad.

But why do we care about this arachnid? The mite harvestmen don’t travel very far, yet similar arachnids are found all over the world because the group is millions of years old. Their current geography can be traced back to the supercontinent Gondwana, which existed around 180 million years ago.

By identifying the different species of mite harvestmen and noting where they are found, we can know more about how evolution is affected by the movement of the continents, as well as the changes in the rain forests since the Last Glacial Maximum, when ice sheets extended the furthest.

In biology professor Sarah Boyer’s lab, we had the perfect mix of fun and focus, which made for an incredibly enjoyable and productive summer. While Professor Boyer was always there to ask questions, I operated independently within the project and formed my own opinions.

This job has also opened up future opportunities for me. Professor Boyer is taking me and another student to the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology conference in Florida, where we will present our findings from this summer to some experts in the field.

I have friends that are science majors at big research universities and very few of them were able to get a paid position in a lab that interested them. Being at Mac has allowed me to form a strong bond with my professor that will most definitely benefit me as I continue with my education.

 

November 18 2014

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