When Denise Thompson began her studies at Missouri State University, she carved her own niche in science—researching and learning more about the population mechanics of often-overlooked creatures.
Thompson, a biology master’s student, diligently pursues her interest in the alligator snapping turtle, a large species of freshwater turtle native to central and southeastern United States. This historically-hardy reptile has witnessed reduced or even stagnant population growth in Missouri, and she is determined to figure out why.
For her master’s thesis, Thompson’s work involved the study of maternal investment in turtle mothers, and she later gave a presentation on nest predation patterns of raccoons on turtle eggs at the Kansas Herpetological Society’s (KHS) 38th Annual Meeting in Wichita, Ks. She determined that visual cues were most important in helping raccoons identify their prey and received a Toland Award from KHS for her efforts.
“The results of this research may help turtle conservationists implicate more effective nest protection techniques for populations that suffer consistently high rates of embryo mortality due to predation,” said Thompson.
In addition to winning the Toland Award, Thompson is no stranger to teaching others about the importance of turtle nesting behaviors and ecology. She gave presentations on the subjects at the National Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Conference in 2013 and the National Turtle Survival Alliance Conference in 2012.
She also received a grant from Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society to investigate the effectiveness of turtle nesting behavior.
“Sigma Xi’s monetary support of my research was instrumental in allowing me to pursue a research project of my own design rather than working on a pre-conceived project,” said Thompson. “I think that this experience of designing and implementing a project from start to finish has prepared me well for continuing in academia.”
Thompson doesn’t plan to let graduation stop her from pursuing more research and educational opportunities. Following graduation from Missouri State in fall 2013, she will continue her Ph.D. in biology at Oklahoma State University with the goal of becoming a professor of biology and teaching at the college level.