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C of I student completes Rocky Mountain research

College of Idaho student and Parma native Laura Barbour spent most of her summer gaining valuable research experience through an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) funded by the National Science Foundation. And the view wasn’t bad, either.

Barbour, a senior majoring in environmental studies with a conservation biology focus, spent 10 weeks working at an elevation of 9,500 feet with the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colo. As one of 10 REUs selected out of 130 applicants, Barbour studied high-altitude ecology, investigating the impacts of selection by pollinators and seed predators on the hybrid zone dynamics of two closely related Rocky Mountain phlox wildflowers – Ipomopsis aggregata and Ipomopsis tenuituba.  

“This has been a great opportunity for me,” Barbour said. “Living at such a high elevation was an awesome and totally different environment. And I had the chance to gain practical experience conducting research in the field and to learn from the many world-class ecologists who work at RMBL.”

Barbour was mentored by Diane Campbell, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California-Irvine. Their research demonstrated that seed predator insects can select for certain floral traits in Ipomopsis, which means that seed predators and pollinators both likely are influencing selection on floral characteristics – and could be driving selection pressures for certain traits in opposing directions. For her work studying how the seed predator fly (Delia) responds to scent compounds released by the flowers, Barbour will be listed as a co-author of a published paper on floral scents by Campbell and Cornell scientist Mascha Bischoff.  Barbour also submitted a research paper and presented her findings during the REU student symposium.

“It was great working with such a strong community of people,” Barbour said. “The researchers there really made the students feel like part of the scientific effort, which I appreciated. “

Several of Barbour’s C of I professors helped make her REU project a reality. She was part of biology professor Don Mansfield’s research team in the Harold M. Tucker Herbarium last summer and also completed a separate research project with Mansfield during the school year. Barbour also credits her advisor, environmental studies and English professor Rochelle Johnson, and biology professors Chris Walser and Eric Yensen, for preparing her to succeed as an undergraduate researcher.

“I really owe this experience to the C of I environmental studies and biology faculty,” Barbour said. “The biology courses I’ve taken prepared me for the program at RMBL – compared to many students there, I felt like I had more exposure to statistics, scientific presentation and paper writing, and experimental design, and that’s thanks to my great professors.”

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including six Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another 11 Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.