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NSF Grant Allows NC Communities to get to Know their Local Wildlife and Contribute their Findings to Science (August 2011)
-HERPS News Release-

Logo of the HERPS programThanks to a $2.7 million dollar National Science Foundation grant, rural communities across North Carolina will have a chance to get up-close and personal with their reptilian and amphibian neighbors, and add to the scientific record.

A multidisciplinary team from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Elon University have combined their areas of expertise and shared passions for the natural world in this program, Herpetology Education in Rural Places and Spaces (HERPS). Description:

The HERPS project aims to trigger and nurture participants’ interest in herpetology while they develop a sense of place and a connection to the local environment, as well as a desire to protect ecological habitats. Along with igniting a passion for the rich biological diversity in their back yards, HERPS will promote the public’s participation in scientific research by providing an avenue to contribute their scientific knowledge of species behavior and distribution across NC. HERPS also has a science education research goal focused on the study of science identity.

Dr. Catherine Matthews, part of the HERPS team and an education professor at UNCG, says the project is essential for many reasons.
“North Carolina is in a state of transition; our human population is increasing and our natural areas are decreasing,” Matthews says. “Our local parks, state parks, vacant lots and our own backyards harbor animals we don't even know are there. Many of these animals are bio-indicators: they keep us informed about the health of the places where we live. This grant will allow us to introduce our neighbors to these organisms that are harbingers of environmental truth and in doing so imbue North Carolinians with an appreciation and admiration for these little known and seldom seen frogs, salamanders, turtles, snakes and lizards.”

Dr. Andrew Ash of the Department of Biology at UNCP is a Co- Photo of a terrepenePrincipal Investigator on the team
. Ash will be responsible for administrating HERPS grant activities within the UNCP service area and feels the initiative will be of great benefit locally.

“Southeastern North Carolina is one of the great remaining habitat refuges for reptiles and amphibians within the state; this initiative can provide large benefits to local citizens and native animals alike.”

Dr. Heidi Carlone, a UNCG education professor, will study how the project impacts young students’ budding identities as scientists. “HERPS' activities (considered “out-of-school” science learning settings) are based on design principles that have robust potential to trigger and sustain science identities – perhaps in ways school science cannot,” Carlone says. “We will study this potential systematically. The results of these studies will provide recommendations about design principles (i.e., “What works?”) for science education settings, especially for cultivating diverse participants’ affiliation with science and nature.”

With HERPS, community members of all ages will be able to do Photo of students weighing a terrepeneeverything from observing frog behavior to capturing, marking, weighing, measuring and sexing indigenous turtles, snakes and salamande
rs. High school students across the state will conduct research to learn about these common species of reptiles and amphibians as well as field ecology and conservation.

The public will be invited to spring celebrations in the NC Piedmont and Inner Coastal Plain featuring local reptiles and amphibians and the scientists who study them. Participants will be invited to share their personal experiences with nature through story-telling (NatureChronicles) and learn more about the local cultural heritage of the area.

Dr. Benjamin Filene, a HERPS team member and a UNCG history professor, will curate the NatureChronicles project, recruiting volunteers to record stories, memories and conversations at the celebration events.
“Afterwards, we will organize and preserve recordings, potentially contributing them to UNCG’s archives,” Filene says. “We’ll identify interesting and illustrative stories, edit these stories, and share these stories with the web designer and with the popular press.”

A web-based information and networking portal is under development that will connect local community members, organizations, scientists, state agencies and the HERPS program. The web-based portal will also function as a database for citizens to record pertinent information about the reptiles and amphibians they find.

The project is funded by a $2.7 million Informal Science Education grant from the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources. The HERPS team includes Matthews (UNCG), Carlone (UNCG), Ann Somers (UNCG), Ash (UNCP), Tomasek (Elon University), Benjamin Filene (UNCG), Lynn Sametz (UNCG), and Melony Allen (UNCG).

For additional information about HERPS contact Dr. Catherine Matthews, .

Click here for a link to a colorful HERPS brochure (PDF file).

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1114558.

Photographs Courtesy of Heidi Carlone

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Updated: Monday, November 14, 2011

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