BVU Biology Major Dives into Summer Study of Amphibians

Amphibian research at Dunes National Park precedes summer work at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Mich., for Brittany Tillman, BVU biology major.

Brittany Tillman, a BVU biology major, splits time this summer between sites in Indiana and Michigan.

There’s no place she’d rather be.

The first part of the summer finds Tillman counting tadpoles, salamanders, frogs, toads, and more as part of an internship at Indiana Dunes National Park near Chesterton, Ind.

“We spent the first two weeks here setting up minnow traps in the park’s vernal pools,” says Tillman, who will be a senior this fall at BVU. “We’d count the number of tadpoles and salamanders and specify the number of each species for each.”

Working with Dr. Robert Brodman, associate professor of biology, Tillman flipped logs to find blue-spotted salamanders, whose tails were then snipped at the tip for genetic testing.

“There are two species and the only way you can tell the difference is by having the tip of their tail snipped for genetic testing,” says Tillman, who earns academic credit as well as a stipend for her efforts.

Tillman also notes the frequency and strength of frog calls recorded on sound meters Brodman set up in the park. Those sound meters record the calls of frogs in 5-minute increments around 10 p.m. daily.

“We’re trying to determine the effect of climate change on the abundance of certain species in the park,” says Tillman, who describes how vernal pools, created by snow melt or excess spring rains, offer a fishless environment conducive for amphibians to reproduce, as fish prey on their larvae.

Once her work in Indiana concludes, Tillman will head to her home state of Michigan to serve as an employee at the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing. She will spend the bulk of the summer as an animal care worker in the petting zoo when not serving in the zoo’s aviary. She’ll also do some work with camels.

And then she’ll head back to BVU for the start of her senior year in late August. Tillman, who envisions a path to graduate school, says she chose Buena Vista University for its strong science department. She remains excited about the University’s programs and is anxious to see what her research this summer will show.