Katie Gerstner has proven that studying even the smallest of creatures can yield big results.
An Organismal Biology and Public Outreach major at Illinois State University, the Lansing resident worked with Dr. Douglas Whitman to study grasshopper behavior when competing for food.
“I began in the lab as a worker. I would come in and feed his colony, which consisted of about 2,000 Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers from the Florida everglades,” Gerstner explained.
“We believe that motivation is a determining factor in competition and we feel that the more motivated (hungry or thirsty) the grasshoppers are, the more their chances of winning competitions over food increase.”
Gerstner recently presented her findings to researchers and scientists from 27 countries during the International Congress of Orthopterology, held in Kunming, China.
“This Congress provides the opportunity for researchers and scientists from around the world to get together to share their current research results in Orthoptera (an order of insects with incomplete metamorphosis), exchange new ideas, and establish networks to support future research,” she said.
“Rather than an animal behavior or ecology conference, everyone here studies the same type of organism.”
Gerstner acquired animal husbandry skills of a different kind when she interned in May at Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Ill.
“I learned how to understand the behaviors and how best to interact with each of the animals,” she said.
“I would rotate between full-time animal keepers and help them complete their daily routines. Every morning consisted of cleaning exhibits and feedings, while afternoons were spent preparing the afternoon and tomorrow’s diets and creating animal enrichment.”
The daughter of Tom and Susan Gerstner, she plans to pursue a career in education or public outreach.