Freshman key part of conservation research project

When SUNY Oswego biology Professor Peter Rosenbaum met Kyle Pursel at a campus admissions program last year, the future zoology major stood out. Pursel showed Rosenbaum a photo album of pictures he had taken of animals in the wild and shared his passion for fieldwork.

Pursel’s enthusiasm and Rosenbaum’s guidance earned a $500 grant from the Upstate Herpetological Association to monitor and help preserve the small wood turtle population in Oswego County. The pair is pursuing additional grants, but the initial money helps start the project.

While having a freshman as primary investigator in a research grant may be uncommon, Rosenbaum stressed that Pursel, an honors student at Oswego, was more prepared and motivated for this work than most people his age.

Pursel’s passion for nature started as a toddler, and he has wanted to work in zoology since his childhood. “I’ve basically had this in my mind since I was 7,” he said. “I love running around in the woods, finding things, recording data.” The quality of Oswego’s zoology program and the bounty of nearby natural resources cinched his college decision.

He knew of the plight of wood turtles, having seen some near his home in northwestern New Jersey and knowing they are considered a threatened species in that state, particularly because urbanization continued to wipe out their habitat.

Pursel volunteered for the Endangered and Nongame Species Program, part of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which further prepared him for this project.

“The wood turtle is listed as a species of concern in New York state, and other states have them on their endangered list,” Rosenbaum explained. “We’ve had just a handful of sightings in Oswego County.”

Pursel and Rosenbaum hope to change that by spotting and plotting wood turtles around eastern Oswego County, as well as tracking their movements. “For part of the study, we hope to get a couple of radios and attach them to the turtles and see where they’re going,” Pursel said.

The award, and any additional grants they receive, will help pay for other needed equipment and transportation costs.

“As long as we find turtles, I plan on doing the study for my whole undergraduate career here,” Pursel noted. He will work part of the summer in the field—particularly in June when the turtles should begin nesting so he can help protect their nests to ensure the survival of this population. His goal is to publish a study by his senior year.

Alvin R. Breisch, an amphibian and reptile specialist in the Endangered Species Unit of New York state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, also will lend his expertise to the project.

By learning more about the wood turtle population’s habits and habitat, Rosenbaum and Pursel hope to develop a long-term conservation plan for the threatened species. Such a plan could both apply to the local population and efforts for wood turtles in other areas, they said.

“I think this is another example where we’re able to provide individualized instruction in a way where undergraduates might get lost in a bigger school and not get to do this until graduate school,” Rosenbaum said.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Turtle team—SUNY Oswego biology Professor Peter Rosenbaum and freshman zoology major Kyle Pursel observe two wood turtles, a 1-year-old and a hatchling, in a Piez Hall biology lab. Pursel and Rosenbaum recently received a grant from the Upstate Herpetological Association to help find, track and preserve the small population of wood turtles in Oswego County.

(Posted: Apr 06, 2005)