Featured Faculty: Dr. Shea Tuberty

Saturday, March 26, 2016 - 9:43pm

The Freshwater Ecology booth is one of the most popular ones at the AppState STEAM Expo every year. Enthusiastic Biology grad students share with the school kids their aquatic ecology research, tools of the trade and examples of organisms they work with. There is always a crowd waiting to hold a crayfish or look at micro invertebrates under the microscope. This is one of the many outreach events that Dr. Shea Tuberty and his students are involved in throughout the year.

Dr. Tuberty’s expertise is in aquatic invertebrate zoology and ecophysiology (how an organism’s physiology is adapted to the environment in which they live).  His research interests include conservation of endangered habitat and species, aquaculture, environmental toxicology and crustacean endocrinology. His current research focuses on hormone control of reproduction of marine and aquatic invertebrates and on pesticides as hormone disruptors. He mainly studies crayfish, which hold an important role in food webs and nutrient culture and are of interest to the aquaculture industry.  

Other than the STEAM Expo, Dr. Tuberty and his students participate in community science events, guest lectures (e.g. Appalachian Lifelong Learners, Audubon Society, Trout Unlimited), Science Fair judging, Summer Ventures in Science and Math, community-based research in ecotoxicology and classroom visits. Dr.Tuberty has established close collaborations with local teachers and often runs ecology programs with classes both in the field and at the schools in a variety of topics. For example, students at Watauga High School participated in fish population assessments and Parkway school students compared soils and examined insects found around their school.

Dr. Tuberty met Laura Elliott (science teacher at Parkway School), the other 8th grade teachers (Hannah Clark and Cogie Reed) and their 60 students at Brookshire Park for one of his aquatic ecology field lessons on the New River.  Dr. Tuberty’s team demonstrated the method they use for electroshocking the river in order to stun fish temporarily so they can be captured for study.

Students walked back and forth with nets to catch fish and invertebrates and put them in the coolers with cold water. Dr. Tuberty’s graduate students helped the 8th Graders learn about calculating streamflow, kick seine netting and water chemistry. They were taught proper handling of fish, including maintaining wet hands so they don’t remove the mucus layer covering the scales, a first line of defense for the fish. They also learned about populations dynamics and using fish and invertebrates as bioindicators (e.g. trouts, darters, minnows, crayfish, creekchubs).

At Two River Community School, Dr. Shea Tuberty visited Mr. Clint Bryers’ classroom for a follow up lesson after the aquatic ecology fieldwork with this group of 8th graders. Students carried out a morphotyping exercise on the invertebrate specimens they collected at the river during their field lesson. With the aid of forceps and dissectoscopes that he brings from his own lab at AppState, students separated organisms into groups based on their morphologic characteristics. Using specific organisms as bioindicators, students then assign a value to the quality of the stream. Students not only do they learn to assess how good/ bad the water quality is at a sampling site and how this helps to paint a picture about the health of the river, they also contribute to actual research.

Dr. Tuberty is currently working with Wendy Patoprsty (Natural Resources Agent at the NC Cooperative Extension) to develop a county-wide program for all 8th grade students to participate in a day of aquatic ecology field research. Check back soon for updates on what is sure to be an amazing learning experience for local middle school students.