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Data Sets for School Research Projects

in Biology and ESS

Normally the large international teams of wildlife researchers that Opwall supports in the various research locations around the world are in the field from June to August completing long-term biodiversity research projects.  Students each year join these researchers to complete independent research projects ranging from the Internal Assessment level through to Masters level dissertations.  However, in 2020 this has not been possible, so the Opwall science team are releasing some of the larger un-analysed data sets to be used by students wanting to complete a number of different independent research projects across a range of syllabuses.

  • Applications for data sets: The data we can offer can be used for a wide range of independent projects and support can be tailored to suit each school’s specific syllabus needs. These include but are not limited to:

    • Extended Essays, Group 4 Projects and Database Investigations for the IB programme
    • EPQs for England and some other parts of the UK
    • Assignment Tasks for the Advanced Higher (SQA)
    • Extended Essays for the Welsh Baccalaureate
    • AP Research Projects
    • Independent research projects towards the Higher School Certificate (ANC)

    If the school’s projects or syllabus are not listed here, please still fill in an Expression Of Interest form and get in touch to arrange a consultation as these datasets are flexible.

    Teacher consultation: The first stage is for the teacher supervising the projects to arrange a free online meeting with the Opwall senior scientist (dan.exton@opwall.com) who will explain how the databases can be used for asking a series of research questions.  If the databases are going to work for independent research projects for your school then the teacher forwards the information to the students.  Note individual students can use this approach or entire class groups because the data sets are so large that each one allows multiple research questions to be asked.

  • Signing up: Interested students then select the data set on which they want to work and can complete a form to reserve their access to their preferred data set. This form also requires the student to sign an agreement that commits them not to publish or copy any of the data provided. These are raw unpublished data sets which will be being used for future scientific publications in peer reviewed journals.  A group of students from a school can all work on the same data set (they would still pay independently though) or they can be spread over all the different data sets. In order to confirm their place we then invoice either the student or the school directly for the data access and tuition from our scientists (£125).

    Science Lecture: The data set selected will be sent to the students accompanied by a recorded lecture from the lead scientist for that project in which they will set the context of the data collected. This will include information on the ecology of the site, the survey techniques used and the possible analysis and applications.

    Live Q&A: After the students have had time to consider how they would like to approach their independent research project (i.e. a specific topic they would like to focus on or research question they would like to ask), the school can book in a live Question & Answer session with the lead scientist for the project. This is an opportunity for the students to ask any questions they have about the project in general and how to get the best out of their own independent project.

Options Available

Please note these data sets are ONLY available in 2020 and in future years will only be available to those students joining the Opwall expeditions. Each of the data sets below will allow at least 20 different research questions and often many more. Just a couple of examples are given below for each data set.

  • IA-Honduras-Adam Laverty

    Coral reefs in the Caribbean

    Lead scientists: Dr Dan Exton and Shannon Cameron

    Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, supporting hundreds of millions of people with food and livelihoods. But they are at risk of being completely lost thanks to impacts including global climate change, overfishing and pollution. Corals are the ecosystem architects of coral reefs, but they are fragile and grow extremely slowly. In recent decades we have seen massive declines in the abundance of corals and, if this continues, the incredible biodiversity reefs support will be lost forever. A healthy fish population is one of the best ways to protect the corals, by ensuring natural ecosystem processes such as herbivory are able to take place. Scientists and conservationists studying coral reefs will therefore often focus on two key areas: (1) the benthic community – the technical term for what is living on the surface of the reef itself (e.g. corals, seaweed, sponges), and (2) the fish community. In the Caribbean, Operation Wallacea scientists in Honduras have been collecting data on these two areas for almost 10 years. Students will have access to data showing changes in benthic and fish communities over time, and also between different sites.

    Example questions:

    • How has the abundance of corals changed over time?
    • How does coral abundance change as light decreases with depth?
    • How has the diversity of herbivorous fish changed over time?
    • Which fish feeding guild (e.g. herbivores, carnivores) seems the best suited to changing reef conditions?
    Contact us to find out more
  • IA-Transylvania-Ben Porter

    Sustainable agriculture and bird communities in Transylvania

    Lead scientists: Dr Tom Martin, Dr Heather Gilbert

    In Europe, agricultural landscapes often possess great conservation value and traditional farming methods can actually promote, rather than be detrimental to, biodiversity. In the Tarnava Mare region of Transylvania the landscape is formed from a mosaic of grasslands, hay meadows, crop fields, pastures and woodlands. This diversity in landscape gives rise to a huge diversity of flora and fauna, with over 150 bird species recorded across the region. Given their relative ease to study, bird diversity is often used an indicator of overall diversity – and so conservation value – of an area. Opwall researchers have been collecting bird point count data from eight villages across the Tarnava Mare region annually since 2013. Students will be able to use this data to answer a number of questions relating to bird community composition as well as looking at spatial and temporal trends.

    Example questions:

    • Does the relative abundance of different feeding guilds vary between valleys?
    • How does bird diversity vary between habitat type?
    • Does the abundance of species on the EU Wild Birds Directive priority list vary by habitat type?
    • How has bird abundance changed over time in each valley
    Contact us to find out more
  • IA-mexico-sara carlson

    Turtle and tourism interactions in Mexico

    Lead scientist: Dr Kathy Slater

    Juvenile and sub-adult green turtles (Chelonia mydas) feed exclusively on sea grasses, with large numbers of turtles aggregating around the same feeding ground. These concentrations of turtles in shallow water close to shore are very accessible for tourism. However, if not properly regulated, “swim with turtle” based tourism then large can result in chronic stress and poor health of the turtles. An exponential rise in the number of tourists snorkelling with green turtles in Akumal Bay in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico resulted in stress related behaviour and a decline in health in the turtles. The Operation Wallacea turtle behaviour project in Akumal started in 2014 and aimed to investigate the impact of the number of tourists and behaviour of tourists on turtle activity budgets and rates of stress related behaviour and the findings of the study were used to produce guidelines for the regulation of snorkel-based tourism in Akumal Bay.  Following the creation of a new marine protected area (MPA) and strict regulations for snorkel tours in 2017, the turtle behavioural data was used to assess the efficacy of this MPA. Each summer from 2014-2019, all turtles in the bay were identified based on unique markings on their head and carapace. Data were collected while snorkelling in the bay using focal animal sampling with continuous recording, whereby an individual turtle was followed for a 20-minute period during which their behaviour was recorded in real time based on pre-defined behavioural categories. Two 20-minute focal samples were collected on different turtles each hour and efforts were made to balance data collection across individual turtles each day. The number of tourists within a 5-meter radius of the turtle were recorded throughout the sample along with the behaviour of each tourist. Any attempts of tourists to approach or interact with the turtle were recorded based on the pre-defined categories. The resultant 6-year data set collected on over 100 different turtles can be used to answer a wide range of research questions

    Example questions:

    • Is there a significant difference in mean activity budgets of turtles when tourists are present compared to when tourists are absent?
    • Have turtle activity budgets changed over time?
    • How does tourist behaviour influence mean rates of evasive responses in the turtles?
    • How effective are tour guides at controlling tourist behaviour? Is there a significant relationship between mean rates of inappropriate tourist behaviour when the tourists were with a tour guide compared to other times?
    Contact us to find out more
  • IA-SA-Alex Tozer

    Predator-Prey-human interactions in a reserve in South Africa

    Lead scientists: Dr Gabi Teren and Dr Heather Gilbert

    Human-Wildlife Conflict is a hot topic in conservation, and will become increasingly challenging as humans and animals compete for areas. In a Big-5 reserve in South Africa, humans live and work in a reserve in close proximity to animals such as lions, elephants, and other herbivores and is a model for future conservation in Africa. In addition to houses, there are public roads which cut through the reserve, causing direct conflict such as mortality, and indirect conflict where traffic can change animal behavior. We set up a camera-trapping study to look at some of the interactions between carnivore species such as lions and jackal which may benefit from hunting and scavenging on the roads, and also how herbivore behavior may change in response to different disturbances by people. Our camera study used more than 30 cameras which were active over two years taking hundreds of thousands of photos, so this massive dataset can easily be split to answer any number of questions related to how animals and people use the landscape in relation to each other. Students will be able to use our data of each sighting which lists date, time, camera number and animal species seen, as well as the categorical data for each camera site (habitat type/road type/traffic volume etc.).

    Example questions:

    • How does moon-phase affect lion activity?
    • Do zebras and blue wildebeest hang out together more often in winter or summer?
    • Are giraffe more active on weekends than during the week on the tourist roads?
    • Do impala show preference for the time of day they are found on the busy public tar road?
    Contact us to find out more
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