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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Uspallata Ecology

As biology continued into its second of three weeks, we got down to the nitty-gritty and had an introduction to biology and statistical analysis so we could infer patterns and relationships in the data we collected on our horseback trip.

Todd Wellnitz leading the TIES crew in a Biology discussion at the hostel
            The next day was an introduction to what the next study would involve with two native Argentine researchers, Erica Scheibler and Paulo Lambias.  They gave us the information we needed for data collection and explained what we would be looking for in Uspallata.  Erica’s research in the Andes is heavily dependent on streams and, for our research purposes, diversity.  Paulo is currently working on his Ph.D. with his research on monogamy in the South American sedge wren.
In Ithaca, New York, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, Paolo is doing a lot of research with these birds to understand different lifestyles and processes of these birds based on their environments.   The sedge wren has an interesting way of building their nests, as the female, aided by the male, often builds more than one nest in the tall Pampas grass.  There are many possible reasons for this, including avoiding predation, creating distractions, or allowing the males of the species to practice polygamy. 
When we arrived at the Uspallata region, we were divided into four groups.  Two groups went with Paolo to a field full of Pampas grass (often taller than us!), even though this is not the mating season for the wrens.  The groups in the fields were to measure the Pampas grass sections by using cups to represent wrens’ nests.  We measured the height of the grass, density of the plant, and the concealment it provided the nest.

Brandon and Alicia measuring the height of the Pampas grass

 The other two groups stayed with Erica and Dr. Wellnitz to collect samples from the stream nearby and then record diversity data of the aquatic organisms they collected. 

Alex and Erica gathering samples from RIo Uspallata near our campground

Frank collecting stream ecology samples


The night ended for everyone with a campfire and dinner at our campground.  Around the campfire Dr. Wellnitz, with the help of Paolo and Erica, taught us about the evolution of species.

The second day, the stream groups went into the field and the field groups went to the stream.  The new stream team sampled different streams than the group.  One group went about 30 kilometers north of Uspallata to collect data from a stream near Tambillos. 

Kelsey and Kris collecting stream data near Tambillos
These transects provided three different locales to evaluate the diversity of streams.  We measured this the same way as the first group at the other stream did.  This was done by holding a net in slow, medium, and fast stream water, and disturbing the ground - catching everything that got picked up by the current.  We did this for five minutes, measuring velocity by timing how long an object took to float five meters. 

When the groups met at the end of the field studies, we headed back to Mendoza to put everything together.  The sedge wren groups looked for patterns in their data, while the stream stream collected all of their critters from their samples. 

Dan and DJ collecting stream ecology data

The next morning, Paulo gave a lecture to answer questions about the information we gathered from the wren’s nests.  This was followed by a short lecture from Dr. Wellnitz and time to work on our group projects.  



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