From bugs to bats: undergrad explores connections in wetlands

Posted on November 30, 2022

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Undergraduate researcher Mason Ibrahim (left) with graduate student Melanie Stadler (right) in the UNCG wetlands.

Undergrad biology major Mason Ibrahim hasn’t had to travel far to find adventure.

“Greensboro is my hometown, and I really wanted to stay close to my community and my family here,” she says. “UNCG was the perfect spot to do it.”

And right here, in UNCG’s backyard, is where Ibrahim has found her passion for restoration ecology.

As an undergrad researcher in Dr. Akira Terui’s aquatic ecology laboratory in the Department of Biology, Ibrahim collects aquatic insects by wading through UNCG’s wetlands in knee-high field boots.

“Fieldwork is actually a really fun part of research that I didn’t realize I would enjoy that much,” she says.

With specimens in hand, Ibrahim returns to the lab to analyze which insects from the wetlands are present in the traps. These insects, she says, may provide important clues about another organism in and near the wetlands: bats.

“Bats are super important,” she says. “They provide not only their role as a predator, but they also provide a lot of insect control around our habitats.”

Ibrahim wants to know if wetlands, such as the ones at UNCG, may increase bats’ prevalence and activity by providing available food in the form of these aquatic insects.

“I hope that our research could maybe help people who are questioning whether restored wetlands help – or help convince them to conserve their own wetlands,” she says.

Almost half of the wetlands area in North Carolina have been degraded, decreasing from 11 million to 5.7 acres, Ibrahim says.

“Wetlands do a lot of things for us, including being habitats for a lot of animals,” she says. “They filter water and cycle a lot of nutrients for us and for a lot of other animals in surrounding ecosystems, as well.”

By restoring wetlands, some of these ecosystem functions can be reestablished – benefiting humans and other organisms. Once she graduates, Ibrahim hopes to build upon her undergraduate work by attending graduate school in restoration ecology.

She says that UNCG has prepared her for this next step in her training by offering diverse opportunities.

“I feel like the communities at UNCG really reflect that sort of mixture of studies that we have going on,” she says. “There’s always new things that you never knew were happening on campus and new experiences to go out and see. There’s a lot of different types of people, and so you get to get a lot of different types of views on your research and on basically every part of what we do.”

Ibrahim will have a chance to receive more viewpoints on her research in Spring 2023, when she plans to present her work from Dr. Terui’s laboratory at the Thomas Undergraduate Research Expo.

“That’ll be super exciting,” Ibrahim says. “It will be my first time presenting in person at a conference.”

As Ibrahim prepares for her next steps as a researcher, she encourages other undergrad students to dive into undergrad research. Who knows what adventure they may find?

“Even if you’re scared about reaching out to professors, take the risk,” she says.

“You get to learn a lot of new things that typically you don’t have time to learn inside the classroom,” she says. “And when you get to make your own discoveries that’s even cooler because you feel like you’re contributing to science itself. ”

Video and Photography by David Row

Drone Photography by Grant Evan Gilliard

Story by Rachel Damiani


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