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Student-faculty research on bats provides diverse learning opportunities


For the past two summers, Illinois College biology major Sabrina Doyle ’20 has conducted student-faculty research on bats with Dr. Bryan Arnold, assistant professor of biology. This October she had the exciting opportunity to travel to the 48th Annual North American Society for Bat Research Meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to present her findings.

I was able to participate in this opportunity because of Illinois College’s wonderful research labs and because of the support students have here.
Sabrina Doyle ’20, Biology Major

Doyle presented her student-faculty research project entitled, “The Effect of Prescribed Burns on Bat Activity and Species Composition in Upland and Riparian Habitats,” which was completed in collaboration with IC alumnus Ray Geroff ’09, who is the district heritage biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 

For the study, Doyle analyzed bat echolocation calls, which are the sound waves and echoes used by bats to capture prey, to assess bat activity in habitats that had been burned at different intervals throughout Siloam Springs State Park in Clayton, Illinois, as part of a habitat management program initiated by park biologists. Through her work with Dr. Arnold, Doyle hoped to show whether or not bat activity is affected by prescribed burning. 

“We learned from the results of our study that bat activity was greater in the most recently burned areas as opposed to the areas that were burned a year before the recording and in unburned areas,” she said. 

During her second summer of research, Doyle was able to help other students with their lab skills while continuing to develop her own techniques and methods for analyzing data. She said two summers of hands-on experience also taught her a lot about the challenges researchers face.  

“I learned persistence is key,” she said. “Even though it may be discouraging that you aren't getting the results you want, you need to keep at it. That is the only way you will be successful.”

The IC junior said presenting her work at the at the NASBR Meeting, which was held October 24-28, provided yet another opportunity for learning.

“I got to meet some very famous scientists in the bat field,” Doyle said. “We learned about new and exciting research that is currently being done by professionals and student scholars in the field.”

Doyle said she was impressed with the level of organization and professionalism she encountered throughout the event. She networked with leaders in the field and received advice for her future work from other researchers who share her passion for conserving bat activity and biodiversity.

Caylee Miller ’18, a recent graduate who conducted bat research with Dr. Arnold, also presented her work at the meeting. This was her second time at a professional conference with leaders in the field; she presented her work at the Annual Meeting of the Illinois State Academy of Science in April. 

She said participating in research played an important role in her college experience. 

“This experience proved to me that field biology is my passion,” said Miller. “Through the lab portion, I gained much more confidence and assurance.”

Doyle, who plans to pursue an advanced degree in optometry after she graduates next year, expressed gratitude for the funding that supported her work, which was provided by the Warren and Marcia Billhartz Experiential Learning Fund to support student-faculty research and her travel to the conference, which was supported by the Stephen M. Tillery ’72 Research Fund for Outstanding Students. 

“This opportunity was something I will never forget and I am so very grateful that I could be a part of it,” she said. “I was able to participate in this opportunity because of Illinois College’s wonderful research labs and because of the support students have here.”

About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Illinois. With an enrollment of about 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs. In 1932 the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

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