This summer I worked for the Penn Laboratory for Understanding Science, run by Professors Michael Weisberg and Deena Skolnick Weisberg. My research involved several projects based around the Galápagos Archipelago. The first was preparing a comprehensive literature review on the topic of a biting black fly, Simulium ochraceum, which is a major pest in the islands and a vector of the disease onchocerciasis in other locations in South America. I covered topics including the biology and ecology of black flies, the chronology of their appearance on the islands, and potential control methods in the review. The review was prepared to distribute to managers, scientists, and the general public in the Galápagos, to aid in efforts to manage the black flies. The control of pests is a thorny topic in the Galápagos due to the protections for the many endemic and native plants and animals on the islands. It is still not certain whether the black fly is an invasive species or native to the islands. However, if it is invasive and if a management program is approved, all the literature indicates that the most straightforward way to control the flies is to treat the streams with a bacteria called Bti. This treatment will kill the fly larvae that live in the streams, but won’t harm any other organisms.
Throughout the summer, I also helped to translate survey and demographic documents from English to Spanish, and I managed and analyzed data from a citizen science project. Additionally, I analyzed data from a survey assessing understanding of evolution among the public. I utilized the R programming language to create statistical measures to see if there is a correlation between knowledge of evolution and acceptance of evolution. Finally, I edited videos of interviews with elderly Galápagos residents, to give to the Galápagos community.
Throughout this experience, I acquired technical skills such as coding in Excel and in R, and using the program Premiere Pro to edit videos. I learned how to utilize a network as I communicated with black fly experts, Galápagos guides, and pest control managers, and I gained experience in tracking down resources in libraries and online. Along with the body of knowledge I acquired on the topic of black fly control, I gained valuable skills in presenting others’ data accurately, synthesizing information, and drawing new insights or pointing out gaps from this synthesis. From my data analysis work, I overcame my fear of computer programming and gained an understanding of how large data sets are turned into comprehensible results.