KIRA E. PONTIUS NSF Graduate Fellow
Thesis Title:
Influences of elevation on reproductive strategies of burying beetles

Research Advisor:
Dr. Rosemary Smith

Teacher Partner:
Staci Orr and Jena Wilcox

Degree Sought:
Masters of Science, Biology

University Department and/or Lab:
Department of Biology, R. Smith Lab

Research Focus:

Description of Research:
I am investigating whether ecological factors influence the reproductive decisions that adult burying beetles make. Specifically, I am seeing if beetles that breed at higher elevations alter the number or size of larvae produced. This fits in with behavioral ecology and the study of life histories. I conduct my research at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gunnison County, Colorado. This site allows me easy access to a wide range of elevations, and has a population of Nicrophorus investigator that has been studied since the early 1990's. Through previous research we know that beetles are less abundant and larger at higher elevations, that parents can control how many offspring they produce through infanticide, and that there is a size-number trade-off for the larvae. My research should tell us if these parental reproductive decisions are responsible for these previous findings. This has important implications for beetles because it is known that larger larvae become larger adult beetles and larger adult beetles have a better chance to successfully reproduce than smaller ones.

One example of how you integrate your research into your GK-12 experience:
Nicrophorus investigator is an ideal study organism for the K-12 classroom. In the classroom students were able to make observations on these beetles. Because gender can be distinguished with three easy phenotypic characteristics we had the students try and determine which were males and which were females. We also had them try and predict what ecological niche these beetles occupied based on observations they made. Finally, after some background work we set up several breeding experiments in class and had students make predictions ahead of time about what would happen.

Profile date: April 2007