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Crazy Bird (egg) Lady

As an undergraduate, you are always told; “It is in your best interest to do some sort of undergraduate research.” And first let me say, this is sound advice. If you ever want to go to graduate school, having undergraduate research experience is very important. In addition, it gives you insight to a little bit of what it is like to be a graduate student, and what they go through during their research for their thesis. I learned a lot during my undergraduate research experience and could not have been done without the help of the CNR Enrichment Fund.

For the last year and a half, I have been working on the Sparrow Swap citizen science project. In case you didn’t know, House Sparrows are an invasive species, and were brought to the United States in the 1800s, and now they are doing really well. Sparrow Swap was enacted in order to determine the best management strategies for their populations. Another part of this is determining if their eggs can be used as environmental indicators. As a part of this, our citizen scientists send us clutches of house sparrow eggs, and they go through a series of protocols for curation.

The focus of my research was House Sparrow eggshell thickness. The idea behind my research was that as embryo development happens, the baby bird draws calcium out of the eggshell to use in their bodies. Our thought was that at later development stages, there was going to be a decrease in both eggshell thickness and calcium levels. We also tested for heavy metal concentrations, just to see if there was anything there that could have an impact on either thickness or calcium.

In order to test this, there were a few steps that we took to determine how all of these things are interrelated. The subsample we chose was an equal number of each early, middle and late development stages, and the clutches had to have consistent development stages to be chosen. First, eggshell thickness was taken using a low-force micrometer in three places of each the equator and the pole. Then an egg was selected from each clutch to be ground up and sent off to another lab for testing for calcium and other selected heavy metals.

Once we finally got the results back and data analysis could begin, and this was really the most impactful part of my experience. Analyzing data is something that you really can only get from real-world experiences. The process was very frustrating, because one software was giving us one result while the other was giving us something totally different. What did our results really mean? To check the results, the statistics were done in Excel, and determined what software was right. This is the most impactful part of my experience because learning about the difficult part of science is not always talked about, and how frustrating it can be to expect something you see in the literature that is not there in your data.

Our results were that there was no results. There was not a significant difference between eggshell thickness in the early development stages and late development stages. In addition, there was not a difference between calcium levels between the two development stages. We found that there could be some future research done on the relationship between calcium and arsenic, because that was the only thing that we found had a statistically significant relationship.
At the end of the day, I am very grateful for my research experience. Without it, I know it would have been a lot harder to achieve my goals. While not finding what we expected was not what we wanted, it was still a result. It may have been very frustrating in the moment, but I am glad to have the experience. Without the help of the CNR Enrichment Fund, I would not have been able to send my eggs off to be tested for calcium and other heavy metals.