An East Texas Baptist University student’s research work was featured this week in a statewide showcase viewed by both the public and Texas legislators, in an effort to highlight the importance of undergraduate research work.

ETBU junior biology major Cameron Castles, whose emphasis is in human biology and is minoring in chemistry, has his research project featured in the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas (ICUT) and the Council of Public University Presidents and Chancellors’ (CPUPC) Undergraduate Research Day, featured virtually online today.

Castles’ project is one of only about 60 projects featured from undergraduate students from 47 private and public universities across the state.

Hosted each biennium by ICUT and CPUPC, higher education institutions across Texas have the opportunity to showcase the research experiences of their undergraduate students in an effort to highlight how undergraduate students’ research positively impacts the state and its residents.

This year’s “Research Day” theme is, “Transforming Texas Through Undergraduate Research.”

Projects are available for view online in poster format that includes the research title, poster, and a brief description. Visitors can view the projects by visiting this link: cpupc.org/ugrd/

“Texas legislators are interested in providing students with solid baccalaureate educational opportunities—including research opportunities,” CPUPC’s Rissa McGuire said. “This event provides the perfect forum to showcase current student research.”

Castles’ project is titled, “Interaction between co-occurring populations of raccoons (Procyon lotor) and Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) in an urban system,” and is part of a larger study investigating the dynamics of a medium-sized mammalian community.

Castles — supervised by Dr. Troy Ladine, ETBU Professor of Biology in the School of Natural and Social Sciences — set up his study site at the Environmental Studies Area of ETBU, just north of the university’s soccer field. Previous studies produced mixed results on interaction between the two mammals because mark-recapture methods were used. Instead, Castles used trail cameras, allowing for a more detailed investigation time which shed more light on the amount of interaction between the racoons and opossums.

“The fact I have been allowed to present this research through the ICUT Undergraduate Research Day event has been both humbling and beneficial,” Castles said. “This opportunity has allowed me to order and present my project in a way that is more interactive than standard publication, and it has made me look at the data from a different and unique perspective. I consider myself very privileged to conduct this research as an undergraduate student. I have benefited greatly from the opportunities ETBU has given me to develop the understanding that comes through the first-hand experience of collecting and interpreting scientific data. I’ve come to more fully appreciate the principles of scientific study through directly applying them in this research project in unique ways.”

In his project description, Castles wrote that racoons and Virginia opossums have a large niche overlap. The trail cameras were used beginning in October of 2014 and the research showed the “raccoons are more active near permanent water sources and areas with higher canopy cover,” Castles wrote in his study.

“The Virginia opossum is more active near roads and areas with higher understory cover,” he wrote. “Thus, our study indicates some niche separation based on habitat use. Daily, 24-hr, activity for both species is primarily nocturnal. Although, there is some separation with the Virginia opossum being more active around midnight and the raccoon exhibiting a peak just prior to sunrise and a smaller increase in activity just after sunset.”

Ladine said he was proud to have Castles’ project selected for the showcase.

“It is an honor to offer opportunities like this to my ETBU students,” Ladine said. “Research gives an opportunity to think critically about material that is generally not offered in the classroom. Students that do research at the undergraduate level receive a deeper understanding of the subject that goes beyond the research in which they are involved. With this increase in critical thinking, students are able to improve themselves beyond what most students think possible of themselves. To be involved in research that sets students on the path to their future vocational calling is just one of the reasons I love to work at ETBU.”

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