I first began research at Washburn University under supervision of Dr. Benjamin Reed. After becoming familiar with radio telemetry and having multiple paper and concept discussions, I felt ready to pursue my own project. Dr. Reed helped me think of a plan and encouraged me to go with a small group of research students to a biological station and pursue my ideas as a summer project.
I came up with an idea of what I wanted to test, and then designed a study utilizing a maze-like field assay. The assay consisted of a Styrofoam hallway with six arches, each leading to a semi-transparent box. The back left box had an additional arch carved out to serve as the exit. After tracking and marking turtle locations and all relevant information, individuals were put through the assay to test the time from start to exit and percent success at exiting. Each turtle (n=18) was tested eight to ten times over the course of the summer.
This location has ten years of both tracking and behavioral type data (exploration, activity, and boldness), so I was able to test some interesting relationships. I found evidence of learning (p=0.07) on the population level, and a slight negative tendency between cognitive performance and boldness (p=0.09). Additionally, there was an inverse tendency between cognition performance and home range size by sex (p=0.06).
I had the privilege of returning for summer 2023! This time around, my research partner Samantha Kim and I decided to complete a field study of the same laboratory behavior assays this population has years of data with. We hauled up the materials we needed to make this field version as close to the lab study as possible. While this project was particularly grueling-we assayed 37 turtles twice in three separate assays-it was worth it to compare results.
All materials were modeled after Reed et al. 2023, with some minor field modifications. Instead of being held overnight, these turtles were tracked, placed in a holding bag, and assayed the same morning. Additionally, instead of assaying consecutive days, turtles were assayed the second time approximately three weeks after the first. Last, instead of an exploration assay we decided to complete a mirror assay, just to observe behavior and to serve as a possible preliminary proxy for social interaction. More information on particular methods may be found at the posters below.
We found that temperature affected activity, which was expected. However, we found that while both field and laboratory results were individually repeatable, they were not comparable for boldness. There could be several reasons for this, all of which will be addressed in an upcoming paper over our research. This was such a fun project and I look forward to seeing where it goes.
Please click this link to see the research posters I created and presented. I have presented at the Kansas Herpetological Society Research Conference, North American Box Turtle Conservation Workshop, Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference, and Washburn's own Apeiron.
This is the design of the summer 2022 box turtle cognition assay. The red tape leads to the box with the exit (reward).
These are the boldness (left) and activity (right) behavior assays based on previous research designed by Dr. Benjamin Reed. We removed the contents of the boldness assay and taped a mirror to the inside rim of the pool for the mirror assay.