Chelsea Blake ’08 — a second year graduate student at Texas State University (San Marcos, Texas) — has earned a prestigious graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation to fund her doctoral studies.
Blake is exploring the effects of invasive predator species on native prey species, an area of inquiry that allows her to combine her interests in behavioral ecology and conservation. She is studying the Largespring mosquitofish, a species endemic to the cold springs of central Texas, and the Rio Grande cichlid, a predator fish that was introduced to the region because it is an attractive species that is popular with fishermen.
She is planning a future project that will look for connections between the morphology (or body shape) and behavior in fish.
“I know it sounds a little far-fetched, but there is some evidence that there is a connection between the two. I want to see if individuals that have more muscle mass and longer tails also
Blake, a biology major in her undergraduate days, came to Earlham intending to become a veterinarian. She discovered a passion for ecology and credits experiential, field-based courses — especially those taught by Professor of Biology Brent Smith and Biology Research Professor Leslie Bishop — for helping to chart her course. Her current work builds on the hands-on scientific skills she learned at Earlham.
“Some days I’m out in the field, getting dirty and gathering specimens that we will keep in tanks at the university. Other days I’m spending long hours at my computer, analyzing data from behavioral experiments.
“The great thing about the courses at Earlham is that they give students real experiments to do, as opposed to busy work,” she says. “They made me feel like a real scientist.”
She also gained valuable work experience in the Joseph Moore Museum, Earlham's natural history museum, where students take the lead on planning exhibits and giving tours to visitors.
Blake also notes that two off-campus experiences — a semester in Tanzania and a May Term in Ghana — solidified her interest in key scientific questions.
“In both those countries, you can see the effects of climate change very clearly. Both those experiences gave me a better idea of what these changes will look like, and how they are going to affect some people more than others.