Last summer (2015) I was a research intern at BRIT. I was first intrigued by BRIT – this strange and beautiful building of plants – during a field trip there for a Plant Biology class my junior year at TCU. I mean who wouldn’t want to spend the summer surrounded by fellow science nerds and doing ground-breaking and exciting research in a building made half of glass with an entire prairie on its roof? Naturally, my research internship was not quite this glamorous… But it was a priceless experience learning what really goes on behind scientific research, what it’s like working in a non-profit, and making valuable connections in the conservation science community.
I did a wide array of tasks in my internship. I helped with the long and intense herbarium inventory, entered data for Enchanted Rock and LBJ Grasslands species lists, went on a field day to the mountains in Oklahoma to document a rare species, entered more data…
I was also very fortunate to be trained to go onto the living roof. With three other researchers, I climbed onto the roof at the crack of dawn and helped record what species were growing. We also spent a lot of time clearing the lines that connect researchers to the roof via bungee cords and a harness. This primarily consisted of kicking cactus off the path and thoroughly confusing everyone in the building as cactus fell from the sky past their windows and crashed onto balconies. We even found a poor duck who had made her home in the brush on the roof and laid her eggs there! Apparently there was quite the panic later about what would happen to the ducklings if they hatched and tried to get off the roof, but (un)fortunately the roof was too hot and the eggs never hatched.
My primary project, however, was studying arthropod diversity on the living roof as compared to a native prairie upon which it was modeled. Before my internship, BRIT researchers installed pitfall traps on the living roof and counted and recorded everything that fell into them. Pitfall traps were then installed in a prairie near Benbrook Lake – and I was the lucky one who got to process these specimens! I counted thousands of ants, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, and more, identifying them and grouping them by family/genus/species. After I had processed all these data I compared the species populations, diversity, and ratios of Benbrook Prairie to that of the roof and made a research poster of my results. It was an interesting project that gave some very useful information. The roof essentially had the same species as the prairie but in ratios mirroring a much earlier stage of succession.
My internship gave me so much valuable experience in my field. I met some awesome people, learned a lot of very different things, and felt that I made a lasting contribution to the organization – and it was pretty cool to know my research poster would continue to hang in the hallways after I left!