- Promote education about the role of microorganisms in natural ecosystems
- Provide hands-on experiences that demonstrate the scientific method
- Increase awareness of the science underlying human-driven global changes
Microbial Decomposition and Habitat Restoration
In collaboration with science-education interns from the Center for Environmental Biology at UC Irvine and the Crystal Cove Alliance (a local nonprofit), we developed a project focusing on the role that microbes play in leaf litter decomposition. The module is run as part of the Coastal Field Science Program at the Berns Environmental Study Loop at the Crystal Cove State Park and is aimed at 5th-7th graders. The program highlights the incredible diversity of plants and microorganisms in the student’s own backyards and focuses on the many unknowns facing land managers trying to restore degraded habitats. Students are introduced to a leaf litter decomposition experiment. The experiment involves the deployment of leaf litterbags at two sites, a degraded site and a restored site. In each site, half of the litter bags contain native plants and half contain invasive plants. During the program, the students first learn about microbes, and the role that microbes play in plant litter decomposition and in the nitrogen and carbon cycles. The students then survey the sites, recording observations on plant type, ground cover and soil moisture. They form hypotheses as to which sites and litter types will promote conditions for faster decomposition. Finally, they weigh the leaf litter bags from each site and record mass. Using data provided with the initial mass of each bag, they are able to calculate mass loss and compare across the different treatments (degraded vs. restored land, invasive vs. native leaf litter). The data recorded by each class of students is being compiled over time. Through this hands-on experience, students are being introduced to the hidden biodiversity present in our local ecosystems.
At recent Earth Day events at the University of California, Irvine and Newport Bay Conservancy, several UCI research groups involved in the Orange County Society for Conservation Biology showcased activities highlighting the hidden biodiversity in our local ecosystems. PhD student Michaeline Nelson contributed a focus on microbes, making visible a few of the many bacteria we work with by showing visitors cultures of these organisms and describing the key roles they play in ecosystems.
As part of our work on marine viruses, our lab developed Scientists-in-the-Park Open Houses in Crystal Cove State Park’s Park & Marine Research Facility in collaboration with the Crystal Cove Alliance and Dr. Brad Hughes at UCI. These open houses were open to the general public for two hours (free of charge) and gave the public the opportunity to learn more about the science and nature of Crystal Cove State Park.
Science-education interns Adeline Tang and Julie Wilson developed a 15-minute “Build-a-Virus” activity, which allowed the general public to learn about our research on marine viruses (see lesson plan and video here). The interns led a discussion with small groups of Park visitors on the differences between bacteria and viruses, the role that both play in the marine ecosystem, and the research that is being conducted by the Martiny lab. After learning about marine bacteria and viruses, and the participants were invited to use their new knowledge to build a model of a virus that they could take home with them. The “Build-a-Virus” activity was taught approximately 56 times to audiences of all ages.