TIES Argentina

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is developing an innovative program in immersive experiential learning known as Thematic Interdisciplinary Experiential Semester (TIES). The program seeks to provide participants with a truly transformative experience in a rigorous, challenging, interdisciplinary, project-based program designed to examine a central theme from a variety of scientific, cultural, economic and political perspectives. TIES Argentina is a pilot program launched in Spring 2011 involving a collaborative interdisciplinary effort by faculty in biology, economics, geology and Latin American studies focusing on the natural and cultural setting of Mendoza, Argentina. This pilot program involves a vibrant living-learning community of 17 students selected from across disciplines and across age groups. Courses are designed in 3.5 week concentrated blocks for project-based inquiry, with dedicated overlap between the blocks to provide interdisciplinary linkages.
This blog will chronicle the adventures, learning experiences and trials and tribulations of the participants in TIES Argentina. We will try to update on a weekly basis, and welcome your feedback and suggestions.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lavalle Desert Biology

     Our final week of biology involved a three-day excursion in Lavalle.  On Monday we went to CONICET, the Argentine national research organization, to meet with Drs. Julieta Aranibar, Florencia Campon and Susana Lagos. Julieta presented her studies on the root structure of mesquite forests and how they gather water in desert environments,  Florencia talked about insects in the Mendoza region, and Susana presented information about arachnids and scorpions and their defining characteristics. 

     The next day we left for Lavalle, a desert region in the north of Mendoza province. We set up camp at a puesto/restaurant where we would stay for the next two nights.   

TIES crew at the Lavalle puesta
  Our first activity we divided into groups and looked for ant colonies. For each colony we found we marked the ants with pink nail polish to collect later as a population estimation method. 
Alex collecting insect specimens in the Lavalle desert
  Afterwards we gathered and had a group discussion with Julieta, Florencia and Susana concerning women in natural sciences.  That night Olga the owner prepared two goats for dinner. After we feasted we observed insects under a spot light outside in the dark.  We categorized the insects into genus nomenclature.

Excellent specimen of a walking stick found during our investigation
The next morning, we awoke early and drove to a mesquite forest. Julieta gave us instructions to measure a transect of 100m and we collected data on plant species and returned to the puesto.  That afternoon Todd Wellnitz gave an informal lecture on the intermediate diversity hypothesis followed by a discussion with Julieta , Florencia, and Suzanna on the differences in  higher education between the United States and Argentina.   

Brandon discussing academic issues with CONICET researchers
  Afterwards we split into groups and collected insects from two different terrains to decide where we would be doing our scorpion hunt later that night.  After a hearty meal of empanadas we set out at night to hunt for scorpions.   Because of a prehistoric evolutionary trait designed to protect them from excess UV radiation, scorpions contain a protein that reflects UV light, which causes them to glow in the dark when illuminated by UV light. We collected over 15 scorpions that night.

Glowing scorpion found in the dark of night, Lavalle

Scorpion death grip, Lavalle desert

Our final day we measured out another transect of 100m and collected data on plant species but in the sand dunes. Then we put out ant traps with two different baits. One consisted of commercial birdseed and the other of tuna. We did this in order to understand their eating habits. 
     We returned to Mendoza that afternoon to finish our final research projects for biology. On Friday, we completed our three weeks of Biology with an open discussion connecting what we'd learned over the three weeks and then presenting our final projects to the group.



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