UA Little Rock students visit Bahamas for summer biology trip

UA Little Rock students conduct research in the Bahamas.

A dozen University of Arkansas at Little Rock students had the opportunity to spend their summer studying island biogeography in the Bahamas. 

UA Little Rock students who participated in the trip include undergraduate students Nicole Akers, Carol Bowerman, Julian Francoeur, Tiara Greer, Violet Hastings, Cheyenne Philpot, and Debra Walters. Graduate students include Ashley Esparza, Scott Hearnsberger, Andrew Ramirez, and Plichis Yang. 

The group left July 19 to spend two nights in the capital city of Nassau, where they toured the Primeval Forest National Park, one of the island’s last remaining pre-settlement forests, and the old plantation ruins at Clifton Heritage National Park. 

The remainder of the study abroad trip that concluded July 28 was spent on San Salvador Island, a smile island that is home to less than 1,000 people. 

“The island is about 12 miles long and 5 miles wide. It has a very neat ecology and history,” said Dr. Scott Woolbright, assistant professor of biology, who led the trip to study island biogeography. 

The students toured the island’s many ecosystems and witnessed much wildlife, including sharks, sea turtles, and the critically endangered San Salvador rock iguana. The students kept field research journals and completed a research project on a topic of interest, which ranged from exploring the abundant life in the Bahamas’ coral reef to biodiversity in the forests to the snails that lived in the island’s tidepools. 

“Island biogeography looks at a community of organisms. The larger an island is, the more species it will support, and you have lower rates of extinction,” Woolbright said. “Smaller islands can’t support a lot of species, so there are higher extinction rates. If you have an island that is far away from the mainland, islands that are farther away have fewer extinctions since there are more opportunities for migration.”

UA Little Rock students conduct research in the Bahamas.
UA Little Rock students conduct research in the Bahamas.

Woolbright was inspired to create the study abroad class after going on a spring break course for geology and ecology students to the Bahamas led by Drs. Laura Ruhl and René Shroat-Lewis, assistant professors of earth sciences. 

“I’ve gone to the Bahamas with their class to do research, and I was inspired to lead my own,” Woolbright said. “This was my sixth trip to the Bahamas since I started at UA Little Rock in 2015, but it’s the first time I’ve led a study abroad trip.”

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