May 20, 2010

Tree mural

A newly fenced off area at the ISU Horticulture Station is devoted to researching the effects of temperatures on the development of young painted turtles. It is one of many animal studies taking place at the farm near Gilbert. Photos by Bob Elbert.

Tree mural

Farm research studies more than plants

by Erin Rosacker

Some of the research at the ISU Horticulture Station, just north of Ames near Gilbert, has nothing to do with plant life. For example, Fred Janzen, a professor in ecology, evolution and organismal biology, and his lab group are conducting field experiments with turtles.

Thousands of turtles populate the 230-acre farm, including hundreds of lab specimens located in the aquatic research ponds. A fenced area near the 15-acre lake contains stock tanks buried to ground level. The tanks hold newly hatched and young painted turtles. Nearly 500 eggs are incubating in the lab now, and will be added to the research area. Daniel Warner, a postdoc working under Janzen, is studying the effect of temperatures on the development of the embroyos and young turtles. Turtle maturation takes three to five years, and adult painted turtles can live up to 40 years.

Jeanine Refsnider, a doctoral student working with Janzen, is researching the nesting behaviors of painted turtles. The turtles have temperature-dependent sex determination, which produces male offspring when temperatures are cold during embroyonic development, and vice versa. Located at the farm's aquatic ponds, Refsnider's experiments focus on the adaptation of turtles from different U.S. climates and how they might change their nesting habits to ensure both male and female offspring.

Janzen, who has been researching turtles since coming to ISU in 1994, recently moved some of his projects to the Hort Station facility.

"Besides the wonderful folks in charge, what's also great about the Hort Station is that it uniquely possesses large experimental ponds, a series of experimental tanks, and related resources associated with the Aquatic Research Facility that was initiated by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences there about 5 years or so ago," Janzen said.