UA students dive to their classroom


Student Angela Payerle watches a blacktip reef shark with fellow student Ryan Miles in the background.

LIZARDS AND BUTTERFLY FISH drew 13 UA students to the CRIOBE research center in Moorea, French Polynesia, recently for a study of tropical vertebrates.

Led by biology professors Dr. Richard Londraville and Dr. Peter Niewiarowski, the students addressed the hypothesis that native lizards are more abundant in their native habitat than are invasive lizard species. They also tested the agility of lizards, comparing the speed of native lizards running on manmade material such as stucco against speeds of invasive lizards.

"The students also addressed the hypotheses that butterflyfish can see color in ultraviolet light and that their scales reflect UV light," Londraville says.

"They conducted additional testing on the invasive versus native lizards’ behavior and locomotor patterns when on natural vegetation, a substrate on which native species may be more successful," adds Niewiarowski.

Expedition yields findings

Divided into three groups, the students — both undergraduate and graduate — will prepare scientific articles to publish their findings. Prior to their expedition, the students met for six weeks in the classroom, designing and planning the research study.

Students taking the research course Tropical Vertebrate Zoology travel to the tropics each year to complete a small-scale research project.

Kristina Schutte holds an oceanic gecko.

"Going to Tahiti was an unbelievable experience," says junior biology major Kristina Schutte of Green.

World of possibilities

"Doing research in the field, especially a place as beautiful as Tahiti, not only opened my eyes to the research possibilities around the world, but to opportunities available from a degree in biology," adds Schutte. "Dr. Niewiarowski and Dr. Londraville were amazing professors who helped us all excel and gain as much practical knowledge and understanding as a student could hope for in a single class."

Undergraduate biology major David Paternite adds that the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"It gave you the opportunity to go away from the classroom setting to a more hands-on focused way of learning. Every day was beautiful and the professors did a wonderful job at planning and making this trip something that I will never forget," Paternite says.


Steven Honeck, left, Dr. Richard Londraville, Alexandria Milan, Eddie Ramirez and Andy Koenig head out of Oponohue Bay for a dive with Mt. Moapu in the background.