LSU College of Agriculture graduate students lead Master Naturalist workshop

Tobie Blanchard  |  4/10/2019 6:02:30 PM

(04/10/19) BATON ROUGE, La. — Betty Baker-Baldridge peered into a microscope.

“Wow,” she exclaimed.

Baker-Baldridge was looking at and learning about aquatic insects as part of a Louisiana Master Naturalist workshop on stream ecology.

In the microscope was the larva of a predaceous diving beetle. Baker-Baldridge was amazed at its white color and shrimp-like appearance. That was exactly the reaction Pat Shorter was hoping for.

Shorter, an LSU College of Agriculture entomology graduate student, was teaching a lesson on freshwater invertebrates.

“The idea is when they see an adult or an immature in a stream, they’ll be able to identify it. They can then teach others the basics of entomology,” Shorter said. “I want to get them excited so they can get other people excited.”

Shorter was one of three graduate students teaching the Saturday morning session held April 6 in classrooms in the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources. The workshop also focused on freshwater ecology and fish biology.

Baker-Baldridge was one of 20 participants working toward becoming a Master Naturalist attending the workshop. This was their first class led by graduate students.

“I’m impressed with them. They have a lot of knowledge, and are masterfully leading their talks,” Baker-Baldridge said.

Graduate student Colleen Walsh had volunteered with the program before, but this was her first time teaching. She led a lecture on the different characteristics of freshwater systems and micro- and macrohabitats.

“Something we were always taught is that habitat is incredibly important,” Walsh said. “Habitat determines what animals you will have in an area. You can survey what animals are in an area, and you will know they are there because of the habitat.”

The Louisiana Master Naturalist program aims to help people expand or sharpen their skills in natural history with a focus on the diverse habitats of Louisiana.

Mary Norris, who helps facilitate the program for the Greater Baton Rouge chapter, said the program introduces people to a better way to understand nature. Participants go through 40-60 hours of workshops and must contribute 20 hours of volunteer time — delivering educational programming, helping at events or performing labor such as trail clearing.

Graduate student Courtney Murr gave participants a basic overview of fish diversity, form and function.

“Fish are unique in that you can look at them and tell how they function in their habitat,” Murr said. “You can look at their mouthparts; you can look at how their fins are arranged, what their teeth have, and you can tell what they feed on, how they feed and what part of their habitat they like to hang out with.”

The workshop wrapped up in the Blackwater Conservation Area in Baton Rouge, where participants sampled a stream and identified plants, insects and fish they found.

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Betty Baker-Baldridge looks into a microscope at the larva of a freshwater insect during a workshop on stream ecology for the Master Naturalist program. The workshop was taught by LSU College of Agriculture graduate students on April 6. Photo by Tobie Blanchard/LSU AgCenter

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Pat Shorter, an LSU entomology graduate student, leads a lecture on freshwater invertebrates that could be found in Louisiana streams. Her lecture was part of a workshop on stream ecology for the Master Naturalist program. Photo by Tobie Blanchard/LSU AgCenter

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Courtney Murr, a graduate student in renewable natural resources, holds a flathead catfish. Murr talked to participants in a stream ecology workshop about fish diversity, form and function. Photo by Tobie Blanchard/LSU AgCenter

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