A Trinity College alumna and her former professor have co-published a research paper in the October 2022 edition of the peer-reviewed science journal Amphibia-Reptilia. The research on the red-eared slider turtle was based on a senior thesis that Eleanor Tate ’21 wrote during her time at Trinity. Tate, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was an environmental science major and is credited as the first author on the paper, “Factors Contributing to the Range Expansion and Population Increase of a Native Generalist Species.”
Tate was interested in environmental science long before she came to Trinity. She was encouraged to continue that path of study when she took “Global Perspectives on Biodiversity and Conservation” during her first semester with Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Biology Amber L. Pitt, who became her mentor, adviser, and co-author. Pitt said, “Eleanor was a phenomenal student. She was very engaged.”
In her first year at the college, Tate was able to attend the Environmental Science Program’s trip to the Galapagos Islands, accompanied by Pitt. The next year, Pitt offered Tate a spot on her 2019 summer research trip to Ozark County, Missouri, where they snorkeled in the North Fork of the White River to gather data on how generalist turtle species and specialist turtle species interact within an ecosystem. “Generalist” species can survive and often thrive in a wide variety of healthy and unhealthy habitats, Pitt said, while “specialist” species require healthy habitats.
The Missouri project has been going on for more than 50 years, Pitt said, making it the world’s longest long-term study on river turtles. Pitt began her own work on the study during her time as a graduate student at the University of Florida. Tate and Pitt were accompanied on the 2019 trip by Myles Little ’21, who is another co-author on the Amphibia-Reptilia publication along with Trinity physics and environmental science laboratory manager Joseph J. Tavano and Max A. Nickerson of the University of Florida.
Tate also conducted an independent study with Pitt to publish another paper on the research they had done in Missouri. Pitt then helped Tate pinpoint a specific topic within their research to start analyzing data and writing a senior thesis. Pitt said, “Eleanor came up with a game plan and implemented it, figuring out a pathway to connect her courses at Trinity with her future research interests.”
Tate decided to write her thesis about a generalist species she encountered in Missouri, the red-eared slider, because it had not previously been found in the study area, but was abundant by the time she joined the study. The research she did contributed to the understanding of how habitat change has affected different populations and how species interact, specifically in freshwater areas. “I was taking the data and analyzing it to understand what it was telling us,” Tate said. “It is really important because not too many people are studying how freshwater turtle populations interact.” Tate presented her thesis at the end of her senior seminar.
After she graduated from Trinity, Tate spent a year and a half going through several rounds of peer review editing. She said, “Scientific papers come out of the discussion, so there was a lot of back and forth between me and Professor Pitt to finalize our manuscript.” Pitt has previously published work in scientific journals, so she helped Tate through the process.
Pitt said, “I think what makes this special is that oftentimes students graduate and they’re done with their research, but Eleanor really ensured that this research made it to the finish line in terms of getting published officially, even after graduating.”
Tate added, “My publication shows how my education at Trinity and the opportunities in the Environmental Science Program gave me an experience that other schools can’t. There is a great community in the Environmental Science Program, and they want to see students succeed.”
Tate is now an environmental scientist at a consulting firm in Meriden, Connecticut, where she does property transfers and environmental site assessments. She said, “My job is taking my academic writing at Trinity and turning it into professional writing.” Tate said that she loved the research experience she got at Trinity and wants to continue it in the future.
To learn more about Trinity’s Environmental Science Program, click here.