To study adaptation, a student adapts

October 19, 2020

When the pandemic forced the abrupt switch to remote learning in the midst of the winter 2020 semester, LSA undergraduate Julia Salamango had to figure out how to complete her research on glass frogs — a tree frog species native to Central American rainforests that’s been forced to adapt to climate-induced habitat change — without going to the library.

Much to her relief, she says she was able to access the many tools the library has to support students from her hometown, Mt. Clemens, Michigan.

Salamango’s project was a little outside her main field of study — she’s an anthropology major — so her first priority was learning more about this new research landscape. The library website led her to an online guide, created by specialist librarians, that offers resources, strategies, and information for people undertaking research in biology. (It’s one of more than 500 library guides that span a wide range of subject areas and topics.)

With the guide’s help, she was able to find plenty of relevant online articles and databases, all of them available online. So many, in fact, that she went looking for expert advice about how to keep track of them all once the writing got underway. 

She reached out to Librarian Jeffrey Martin, who recommended a citation management tool to organize and track her references. This turned out to be a real time saver, Salamango says.

“It was so efficient to have all my sources and annotations in one place,” she says. “Plus the bibliography plug-in meant that my works cited could be updated automatically while I wrote. With no hassle.” 

Her research paper — which examines the impact of a fungus that's demolishing frog populations globally, and concludes that studying glass frogs could be the key to designing sustainable solutions — won her a first place prize in the Pamela J. MacKintosh Undergraduate Research Awards. It’s also been uploaded to the library repository, Deep Blue, where it becomes part of the university’s permanent scholarly record, preserved and accessible to researchers everywhere.

Are you a U-M undergraduate? Find out how to apply for one of our research awards.

For Salamango, this is only the beginning. “That project definitely made the research process less stressful, more organized, and more achievable on a set timeline.” This semester, she’s reaching even further, taking an interdisciplinary approach to her chosen topic — critical learning periods in the development of adaptive vocalizations — in a primate behavior class.  

“I'm excited to use info from my linguistics classes to investigate how much learning needs to happen for primates to develop vocalizations for predator alarm calls and intergroup social hierarchy communication.” 

And she hopes to eventually pursue her exploration of cognitive and behavioral adaptations in primates in graduate school.

For now, she’s also managing her own adaptation to remote learning. “My current semester is actually busier than usual, because I’ve taken advantage of virtual opportunities that wouldn’t normally be available to me.” She’s working remotely for a lab and on an internship. And though it was a challenge, she finally found an organizational system to coordinate all of her online meetings, which makes her goals “much more attainable.”

Salamango, who lives in a house near South Campus, is looking forward to spending time in Shapiro to study for her midterms; in the meantime, she’s counting on the library to support her work, even from afar.


by Lynne Raughley

Granular glass frog, by Charlie Jackson via wikimedia


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