FAMU student conducts groundbreaking research in Central America

Terrius Bruce picking through a coarse woody debris sample for macro-invertebrates.
Terrius Bruce | The Famuan

Terrius Bruce, an environmental studies major at Florida A&M, was one of 30 students from across the country chosen to participate in the Research Experience for Undergraduates from underrepresented minority students.

This summer program is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program, took place in Costa Rica.

The program offers two locations within Costa Rica: La Selva and Las Cruces. These stations provide undergraduate students with unparalleled access to tropical forest ecosystems, mentoring by experienced tropical ecology researchers, and training in field research methodology. Each student worked with an on-station mentor as well as an on-campus mentor from his or her home institution to ensure the integration of the summer research experience into student’s academic careers.

“As cliché as it may sound, the universe aligned this opportunity into my path,” said Bruce, a Tallahassee native who began his academic career at TCC. “I competed with hundreds of applicants across the country and I was the only community college student chosen in the group.”

La Selva has wildlife unlike anywhere else in the world. “Recognized internationally as one of the most productive field stations in the world for tropical forest research and peer-reviewed publications”, said a June 2017 article within the Costa Rica Star.

La Selva Biological Station is owned and operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies, a consortium of universities and research institutions from the United States, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.

“This experience is geared towards developing balance, professional scientists and researchers,” Bruce said. “There is a wide variety of exotic plants and animals in this beautiful tropical setting and this opportunity gave me exposure to an abundance of fields of research and the ability to meet so scientist from across the globe.”

The program emphasized research skills in the field, enhancing communication skills through training in scientific writing, oral presentations, science blogging, and videography, and integration of cultural experiences with research development. 

The program focused on environmental topics such as biodiversity conservation and agroecology and offered opportunities to interact with local farmers, smaller field stations and environmental NGOs.

Bruce conducted his research on macroinvertebrates in La Selva to see how they are affected by changes in the streams’ pH. Macroinvertebrates are easy to find and studying them can determine the health of any aquatic ecosystem.

“Terrius will analyze the communities using several indices that are frequently used to compare communities quickly and cheaply; so, he can take his skills in sampling, identification and assessment to Tallahassee or anywhere,” said Nick Marzolf, Bruce’s on-site mentor and postdoctoral student at North Carolina State University.

Marzolf’s research is focused on how stream pH affects the decomposition of organic matter, stream macroinvertebrate communities, and stream microbial rates of organic matter decomposition such as leaves and wood.

For more information on research abroad, visit the OTS website at https://tropicalstudies.org.