MSSU outdoor lab measures local grasshopper populations

JOPLIN, Mo. — College labs typically take place inside classrooms but that’s not the case with an area professor. His students learn on location, so to speak.

It’s one thing to read about insect populations, but it’s another to actually go outside, catch, count, mark them, and then let them go. That’s what’s happened in this outdoor lab with students from Dr. David Penning’s general ecology class at Missouri Southern.

“Take measurements of grasshoppers this week and then the relative ratio of what we capture this week to next week gives us pretty solid information about how big the population is so by looking at repeated capture rates and things like that that we can estimate a population that we could never go out and capture every individual,” said Dr. David Penning, MSSU Biology, Environmental Health.

“Here’s our little grasshopper, we’re gonna give him a mark on the back,” said Grace Scott, Wildlife Conservation Biology Major.

Next week, Scott and her classmates will return to the same field, just a short distance from the MSSU campus, catch more of them, and see how many of those they capture have been marked with paint the week before.

“Getting the research experience, it’s so much more beneficial to be able to go out in the field and be able to have these classes that you actually get to go out for lab time instead of doing a simulation of everything,” added Scott.

Penning says students like Scott who have practical experience with animal counts like this, give them a leg up on graduates from other schools that don’t offer the same outdoor classroom experience.

“Certainly they need to know plant identification or how these other things work, but like real-world, meaningful, life experience plays a big role, and projects like this kind of help get them in that direction,” said Dr. Penning.

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