The Texas Academy of Science held its 125th annual meeting in Clear Lake, Houston, TX.  During the last weekend of February, Professors of Biology and also Past Presidents of TAS, Dr. Romi Burks and Dr. Ben Pierce, took eight student biologists to experience this state-wide assembly of scientists. Overall, Southwestern student contributions included two poster and two oral presentations as well as an exciting 2nd place team finish in “Science Jeopardy.”

Two of Dr. Pierce’s research students, Sydney Cole and Claire Bason, won the 2nd place award for Best Undergraduate Poster in the Terrestrial Ecology and Management Section for their work on chirping frogs and mites titled “Chigger Mite Prevalence in Texas Chirping Frogs Based on Citizen Science.” Additional student co-authors included Emma Kesterson and Gina Rameriz.

In addition, one of Dr. Pierce’s former research students, Bekki Chastain ’20, now a Master’s students at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, gave a standing room only presentation in the Conservation Biology section of her research entitled “Modeling the potential impact of climate change on range expansion in Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides and E. planirostris (Anura = frogs). 

This adventure to TAS in Clear Lake also resulted in some serious nostalgia for Dr. Burks and alumni Dr. Matt Barnes ’06 (now an Associate Professor at Texas Tech University) as it occurred within the same area that they first collected apple snails many years ago.  A few snail tales might have been heard during the weekend.

In the Freshwater Science Section, Lillian Dolapchiev gave a talk entitled “Filter me…if you can: using size fractionation to separate, measure, and determine the size of Pomacea maculata eDNA.” Her co-authors included Cynthia Bashara, Dr.  Barnes ’06, and Dr. Burks. Lillian earned a 1st place for the Best Undergraduate Oral Presentations within the Freshwater Science Section.

In the same section, Cynthia Bashara gave an oral presentation entitled “Snail (Pomacea maculata) Days of Summer: Associations between reproductive output, snail removal efforts, and environmental DNA (eDNA) concentration” which included Lillian, Dr. Barnes, Dr. Burks and Chris Vaughn from the San Antonio River Authority as co-authors. Cynthia took the 2nd place award in the category.

Together, Cynthia and Lillian presented their specific research objectives completed over the summer during SCOPE as a poster presentation entitled “Stop escargo in San Antonio: developing best methodology for detecting Pomacea maculata using environmental DNA (eDNA).” This poster won 2nd place as the Best Undergraduate Poster in the Freshwater Science Section.

Two more research students of Dr. Burks, Kate Henderson and Abby White, also presented a poster in the Freshwater Science entitled “Keep Austin snail-free: ongoing removal of Pomacea maculata and evaluation by eDNA” co-authored by Cynthia, Lillian and Mr. Dave Christie, a local Austin homeowner where the apple snails have invaded. Kate and Abby put together this poster based on just a semester of lab involvement. In addition, newcomers Cassidy Reynolds and Esme Barrientos Rosas also had the opportunity to attend and review their research progress with Dr. Barnes.

In addition to collaborating with Dr. Burks, talking with the three pairs of “eDNA Detectives” and co-authoring presentations with Cynthia and Lillian, alumni Dr. Matt Barnes ’06, of Texas Tech University, served as Vice President of the Academy and transitioned into his 2022-2023 role as President-Elect. His own undergraduate and graduate students from Texas Tech also won a poster presentation and a research grant award, respectively. Photos from the Awards Banquet can be seen here:

The Texas Academy of Science not only includes several sections associated with Biology but welcomes chemists, mathematicians, physicists, anthropologists and neuroscientists. The society has a strong dedication to supporting undergraduate research with a number of presentation and grant awards. Dr. Barnes will oversee the program at next year’s TAS meeting at San Angelo State University. The Southwestern Biologists will be honing their Science Jeopardy knowledge for next year!