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Pitt State chosen for national project for second year in a row

Pittsburg State has been chosen to participate in a national project led by the Smithsonian. The goal of the project: to document and present mammal life across the U.S.  

Per their website, “Snapshot USA’s goal is to facilitate the collaboration of cooperators to contribute to a national database of public wildlife data.”  

The Smithsonian first chose PSU to represent Kansas last year during the inaugural survey, based upon urban ecology research Durbin published on Digital Commons. In two months, the PSU team captured more than 8,000 images of 16 mammal species: deer, raccoon, gray and fox squirrel, opossum, eastern cottontail rabbit, mouse species, rat species, armadillo, coyote, groundhog, domestic cats and dogs, striped skunk, beaver, and a bobcat. Those photos became part of the Smithsonian’s national wildlife database, eMammal, available to the public at https://emammal.si.edu/snapshot-usa

Caleb Durbin, senior in biology with an emphasis in wildfire ecology and conservation, is the lead undergraduate student working on the project along with assistant professor of biology Christine Brodsky.  

“So, what we did last year, and what we’re continuing to do this year, (is) we put out trail cameras and… we tried to observe the mammal communities in a forested kind of habitat here in Pittsburg,” Durbin said. “…When an animal walks by (the trail camera), it takes a photo. We have that set up so that we can know what diversity of species we have and so we can see in each state what species are there and what the difference is between each state. So, Snapshot USA is a nationwide collaboration…”  

This project is important to Durbin because of the effects of human life and urbanization on animals and their habitats.  

“I think it’s super important because with urbanization and urban sprawl, which is basically we keep building buildings and tearing down habitats, I think that it’s important for us to know what’s happening when we do that because our mammal communities can suffer from that and that’s a big problem,” Durbin said. “I think that if we don’t provide the research to say, ‘Hey, we have species actually in these environments so we can’t chop them down and just build something different.’ Also, we have to think about their adaptions to urban life. We have to think about how the animals are adapting to our way of living in town. So, I just think its super important for our ecosystem that we know what’s out there and that we know what’s in different areas.”   

In November, Durbin and his classmates will be using the data they collected in the nationwide ‘Snapshot Symposium.’ Last year, at the Kansas Natural Resources Conference, they won the Best Student Wildlife Poster award.  

“…The mammalogy class (students) are required to at least go out with me and check the cameras so they can kind of get experience with field work,” Durbin said. “…There’s a symposium where they get to make a poster from last year’s data, or this year’s depending on how fast we can get the data, but they… mostly use last year’s data and then they create a poster for the Snapshot Symposium. So, they use the data that we get, and they help identify the mammals and then they see different trends that the mammals have in different states, like there could be more raccoons in Kansas than there are in Nebraska.”  

Durbin and those involved in the project are trying not to disturb the animals’ habitats as much as possible while also collecting data for the project.   

“So.., I get to go out into the field every… other weekend and check the cameras,” Durbin said. “…A lot of research can be done by trapping, so this is called camera trapping, and it’s the least… invasive for the animal… So, there’s different kinds of leg hold traps and… different things like those that, yeah you can catch animals and let them go but its much more invasive if you do it that way. So, this is less invasive, and it just takes a picture of them, but we can still get data to say, ‘This animal is in this area,’ because it was caught on… (camera).”  

According to Durbin, there are several ways that this project will help him in the future and says that it has already helped him with some things.  

“So, a lot of research… like master’s opportunities and stuff, are doing research with camera traps and so this is giving me experience for when I want to further my education later in life when I go get my masters,” Durbin said. “That could be very helpful later on. Being out in the field is just super important and I get to work with statistics and present (my data) in front of people… Last year, I got to present at the capital, and I got to present at the Kansas National Resource Convention. So, it’s just given me a lot of opportunities to make connections with people… This summer, I got to work for KWBP and Snapshot kind of helped me get that job this summer as an internship… We got to travel around and trap small mammals. Based on my experience with this, it’s helped me get jobs, helped me make connections, it helped me kind of further my education in many ways…”  

 The project began in September and will continue through October.  

“… I like to get it out there,” Durbin said. “The research is important, and I think people should know about it.”  

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