Fisheries and wildlife students examine diversity

This is the Second in a three-part series focusing on different majors at the University.

Students majoring in fisheries and wildlife see the subtleties in nature that many others might miss.

“It’s definitely given me a respect for the diversity, the really interesting things that people don’t see,” said Nick Gidmark, a fisheries student. “They don’t even realize that it’s there.”

For Gidmark and many others, the University’s fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology program helps examine nature at both the molecular level and at a larger scale, discovering how natural systems function and how they can best be preserved.

Students in the program study a variety of subjects, including genetics, mammology and environmental policy. Once they declare a major, students decide to focus on fisheries, wildlife or conservation biology, while getting a broad scientific education in all three areas. The overriding emphasis of the degree is conservation, but students also come away with an appreciation for the details of life systems.

One of Gidmark’s favorite courses is ichthyology, which focuses on the biology of fish and their sensitivities, he said.

Learning outside the classroom

The program has provided Gidmark with many opportunities to apply the knowledge he has learned in classes to research projects and field work.

“The field work is awesome,” Gidmark said. “It’s energizing to be out there in nature and experience it. It’s great fun.”

His studies have taken him to Iceland, where he spent most of the summer researching parasitism in codfish, and to the Ozarks, where he gained a deeper understanding of how to identify fish, he said.

Gidmark has received three Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program grants to do research with faculty members on a variety of projects.

“One was identifying some marine fish that were caught in the Philippines in 1892,” Gidmark said. Those fish have been stored in the Bell Museum of Natural History for the last 110 years.

The department also boasts the highest number of Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program awards in the University, based on the number of faculty members.

“We promote it regularly,” said Ira Adelman, a professor and former program director. “Most of our faculty is willing to engage the students and serve as mentors on these projects. Occasionally, if their work turns out to be good enough, they may get a publication out of it.”

Kelsey Dahl, a wildlife sophomore, is one such student, working on a manuscript for publication thanks to an award from the program.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “It’s about the rabbit overpopulation problem in Australia.”

Rabbits are particularly fascinating to Dahl, especially the swamp rabbits of the southern United States, she said. These rabbits have webbed feet and can outswim beavers.

“I’m not sure that people know how diverse animals really are,” said Dahl, whose favorite class is genetics. “I think they should appreciate animals and their existence a bit more. Going into this field, our eyes are open to that.”

The program teaches students what they will need to find careers with government agencies, such as the Department of Natural Resources, and with various nongovernmental organizations.

– Freelance Editor Steven Snyder welcomes comments at [email protected]