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Students learn science at USGS

Four scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey's Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center took Tuesday morning to show kindergartners about working with pollinators, measuring carbon dioxide levels in the air and tracking animals with radio telemetry.

Forty-one students from the two kindergarten classes at Gussner Elementary School visited Northern Prairie after studying the life cycle of the butterfly, which includes bee pollination of flowers and planting the school garden, said Kacey Schlafman, a kindergarten teacher at Gussner.

"The field trip was a good experience for us," Schlafman said.

Clint Otto, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said he organized the event after visiting the school. It is not common for kids so young to visit Northern Prairie, and it was an experiment that worked pretty well, he said.

"This was the first time the kindergartners have come to the center to learn about what we do," Otto said. "We have done interactive education programs for kids before but they have never visited us where we work."

The weather cleared up enough for the kids to go outside and pretend they were bees foraging for nectar from various flowers. The kids returned the nectar in the form of blue foam pellets to be weighed on the same scales that are used to measure beehive growth.

"The scales log the weight every 15 minutes during the growing season to look at how the habitat around the colonies affects the honeybee production," Otto said.

Dave Brandt, a wildlife biologist, showed videos about how scientists capture and collar birds and animals so they can be tracked using radio telemetry. He showed kids how frequency and an antenna can guide scientists to the animals as the signal gets louder by searching for a duck decoy with a collar.

Sheel Bansal, a research ecologist who studies biogeochemical processes that drive greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage, demonstrated how his equipment measures the different levels of carbon dioxide given off by earth, plants and people. By showing how a large group of people in a conference room can raise carbon dioxide emission, it helps to teach about greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration, he said.

The 600-acre Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center opened in 1965 to study the plant and animal species and ecosystems of the Prairie Pothole Region.

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