Graduate STEM Fellow Profile

Leigh Ayn Cooper

Project Title: Project Extremes
Thesis: Effects of increased mortality of lodgepole pines assoc. w/mtn pine beetle infestations on biogeochem/biota of stream ecosystems
College/University: University of Colorado Boulder
Research Advisor: William Lewis Jr.
Degree Sought: Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Department: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Research Focus: Limnology
Teaching Partner(s): Dan Tomlin, Andy Feeney, Kim Greene

Description of Research

I am studying to become a limnologist, a scientist who studies lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. I am focusing on mountain streams; I want to find out if the streams are being affected by the death of the
lodgepole pine due to mountain pine beetle infestation. When a large disturbance to a forest such as fire or logging occurs, we often see changes to the water chemistry or animal and plant communities in the stream, so I wanted to see if the death of the lodgepole pines caused the same changes. This means that I spend my days wading through streams collecting stream invertebrates, scraping algae from rocks, collecting water samples, and doing chemistry in the lab.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience

My research seems to hold interest for the students in Boulder since they can easily see the devastation to the forests caused by the mountain pine beetle outbreak. I have brought dead pines to class so that the students can explore the wood and learn to find the signs of pine beetles and discover the reasons why the tree dies due to their infestation. We have had trips to the forest where we have seen the dead trees and have hypothesized how the forest will be affected by the death of so many trees. I will be taking a group of 5th graders into the mountains for an overnight where we will get to learn about the pine beetles and the forest. Specifically, my limnology background has allowed me to teach an 8th grade Earth Science class about ocean currents and the effects of the El Nino and La Nina years on the local ecology. I am looking forward to
working with students studying the Life Sciences as I hope to actually take them to the local streams so I can use even more of my limnology
background to help students explore the natural world.