- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
That's the philosophy of Bita Rostami, who received her bachelor's degree in animal biology (ABI) from the University of California, Davis, in June 2022, and then in a unique accomplishment, saw her practicum thesis published as a review article in a prestigious research journal.
“A key element in the ABI major, hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is the practicum project--an opportunity for students to engage with research labs,” said her mentor, agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen, professor in the department.
The journal, Methods in Ecology and Evolution, published her practicum report, “Application of Active Acoustic Transducers in Monitoring and Assessment of Terrestrial Ecosystem Health—A Review” in its Oct. 14th edition. “She pitched the basic and highly innovative idea of using active acoustic transducers in monitoring and assessments of terrestrial ecosystem health,” Nansen said.
“ABI practicum projects represent a unique opportunity for us instructors and lab team leaders to open our doors to students and allow them to challenge themselves and be inspired,” Nansen said. “And in some cases, it us that receive more from the student than what we offer--Bita is an example of such a student with an enormous academic potential.”
“Setting aside Bita's terrific academic background and qualifications, I have found her to be the ideal collaborator, very cooperative, consistently cheerful, perfectly dependable, stable and delightful to work with," Kimsey said. "Competition may or may not select for exceptional humans, but often selects for difficult characters. Bita almost uniquely combines high productivity and intense curiosity with a delightful personality, an ideal combination to have in a research program.”
In the journal article, Rostami reviewed and discussed possible applications—and also constraints—of active acoustic transducers in monitoring and assessment of terrestrial ecosystem health.
“Specifically, this article includes a brief introduction to the basic principles of sound and types of active acoustic transducers,” Rostami and Nansen wrote in their abstract. “Moreover, we provide reviews of common uses of active acoustic transducers in assessing plant structures and plant functional traits.”
How did Bita Rostami conceive the idea of using acoustic transducers in monitoring and assessing terrestrial ecosystem health?
“I learned in one of my classes that playing recordings of healthy oceans could aid in restoring marine communities,” Rostami said. “From there, I wanted to find out if sound could be used similarly to help restore terrestrial ecosystems. Through my initial research, I found that although sound and sound recordings have been used to monitor and rehabilitate wildlife in terrestrial ecosystems, more research needs to be done on applying sound in assessing terrestrial plant health. I was familiar with multiple types of acoustic transducers commonly used in precision agriculture and urban forestry, so I wanted to see if we could apply pre-existing technology to perform monitoring and assessments on a broader scale in rough terrestrial terrains.”
Rostami, who received her associate of arts degree in natural sciences and mathematics from Irvine Valley College in June 2020, credits a research retreat in Palm Springs with sparking her interest in environmental sciences. As a community college student participating in the retreat, the flora and fauna of the desert fascinated her.
“That convinced me that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said. She then gained experience as an undergraduate research assistant with the UC Irvine School of Biological Sciences. Her work, with principal investigator Peter Bryant from January to May of 2020, involved researching and analyzing the diversity and life cycle of Pacific Ocean zooplanktons.
Next project: for several months in early 2021, she served as a researcher, advised by paleoecologist Renske Kirchholtes of UC Santa Cruz, in the California Ecology and Conservation (CEC), part of the University of California's Natural Reserve System (CNRS). “CEC is an undergrad field program that takes students from different UCs across multiple UC nature reserves to learn about Californian ecology and do research,” she explained.
Experience as a research assistant in the UC Davis laboratory of conservation ecologist Susan Harrison in the Donald and Sylvia McLaughlin Natural Reserve, a 7,050-acre CNRS reserve in Napa and Lake counties followed. Working with primary investigator Rebecca Nelson from March 2021 to February 2022, she conducted daily visual encounter surveys of field sites or pollinator species, maintained daily data entry (time/date, weather, GPS coordinates, pollinator species, number of visitations and lower species visited), and collected soil samples from study sites to measure chemical makeup. She also collected seeds from specific flower species to analyze genetic diversity and test for seed viability.
Rostami, now 23 and a resident of Newport Beach, is taking an academic break before applying for graduate school. She is working full-time teaching math and biology as a private academic tutor in grades K-12. “I plan to eventually apply for an environmental science master's program and get certified through the Society of American Foresters.”
Rostami, who speaks Farsi (Persian), English and Spanish, already has accomplished two “firsts” in her family: She is the first to attend college in the United States “since we immigrated here from Iran around ten years ago. Most of my family are engineers, so I'm also the first one going into environmental studies.”
“If you are struggling to figure out your passion, learn to enjoy stepping out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised by how much you can learn about yourself when trying out something new.”