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Aggies on NSF-led 'Toads, Roads and Nodes' Undergrad Research Team

Thursday, Apr. 25, 2013

USU faculty member Karen Beard with two students

Faculty mentor Karen Beard, left, accompanied students George Fawson and Anisha Willey to the culminating meeting of the nationwide 'Toads, Roads and Nodes' research project at the University of California, Santa Barbara April 5-8.

members of Karen Beard's class that contributed to research

Beard's conservation biology class of more than 35 students contributed to the 2013 National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis Coordinated Undergraduate Research Project, which focused on amphibian habitat fragmentation.

As a human, you periodically deal with the inconvenience of road construction. Perhaps those dreaded orange barrels make you late for work or school or force you to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic. But consider the lowly amphibian: for that toad or frog, a new road means isolation from food and mates along with a greater likelihood of becoming road kill.

Utah State University undergraduates recently contributed to a National Science Foundation-funded project aimed at examining and analyzing amphibian habitat fragmentation across the country. Using data from the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program and GIS landscape layers, including the National Land Cover Database and the National Wetland Registry, students in Karen Beard’s Conservation Biology class (WILD 4600) joined researchers from nine other universities selected to participate in the 2013 National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis ‘Toads, Roads and Nodes’ Coordinated Undergraduate Research Project.

“This is a great learning opportunity for our undergraduates,” says Beard, associate professor in the Department of Wildland Resources. “The students learn how to answer a real-world research question, how to collect real data and how to analyze this data.”

Over the course of the project, Beard’s students investigated the presence or absence of varied amphibian species in a designated region, noting changes in such landscape features as forest cover, road density and urbanization.

Two students from the class, George Fawson, a wildlife science major, and Anisha Willey, a conservation and restoration ecology major, accompanied Beard to the project’s culminating session at NCEAS headquarters at the University of California, Santa Barbara April 5-8.

“We were able to put together all the data from all of the states to get a bigger picture,” Willey says. “It was lots of fun meeting people from all over the United States.”

Highlights of the project, she says, were developing new research skills and working on newly collected and under-studied frog data.

“Data collection is a challenge because it’s very tedious,” Willey says. “I learned it takes a lot of time, work and participation from many people for a large-scale project like this to be successful. Repetition is key for success.”

Beard, who previously led her students in a NCEAS project in 2011, says such projects are a huge investment of time but well worth the effort.

“I set aside four-to-five weeks for this project because it’s a great way for students to learn about and experience conservation biology and ecology,” she says. “With our 2011 project, a student participant and I co-authored a scientific paper that’s been accepted for publication. That’s a valuable educational experience for an undergraduate.”

Related links:

Contact: Karen Beard, 435-797-8220,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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