1Ideas for projects should you need themComing up with an idea to investigate for a project is not necessarily easy. If youare struggling to come up with your own idea, then we have tried to extend thechoices available to you for designing you own experiment or using data fromweb sources. You might like to consider one of the following:-Project #1Does microwaved water have a negative effect on plant growth?A few years ago there was a viral email doing the rounds from someonesuggesting that water being subjected to microwave radiation changed it in away that had a detrimental effect on the water. This conclusion was the result ofan experiment done by a primary school girl. Attached to the email was aphotograph of two pots, one given normal water and one only microwavedwater. The plant in the pot feed normal water certainly looked healthy and theone feed microwaved water looked very sick.Now, the design of the experiment was flawed. You might already be aware of aflaw in this experiment and it centres on a crucial issue REPLICATION!! This isnot as easy as it sounds. Trying to sort out “real” effects from chaotic randomeffects is one of the most difficult aspects of experimental design. There is alsothe issue of bias and placebo effects and we are all subject to these very realissues. Most of the people who got the original email wanted to believe thatsomehow irradiated water had a detrimental effect on all living things and justaccepted the result of that single experiment as gospel. By including replicationyou can actually assess any possible effect of microwaving water on plantgrowth, using germinating sunflower, or pumpkin seeds.You can replicate the experiment with two treatment groups – and at least 20seeds in each treatments (microwaved water vs. non-microwaved water). Youshould easily be able to get results after about 5 weeks including the time to buythe materials and put it all together.CAUTION: Be aware when you microwave water that you need to allow thewater in the vessel to stand for at least 2 minutes before opening the microwavedoor. Microwaved water can ‘explode’ when sudden disturbed immediately afterbeing microwaved, resulting in nasty scolding.Project #2Mammal life histories – trade-offs and correlationsLife history data describes aspects of an animal’s life – and can broadly bebroken down into measurements based on three crucial life processes:development (such as length of gestation, size at birth), reproduction (number ofoffspring per litter, number of litters per year) and aging (age at sexual maturity,lifespan). It’s a question of interest to biologist as to how these variables relate toeach other, and how they might themselves be influenced by otherenvironmental variables.2There are huge reams of available life-history and ecological data available formammals on the web. One particular database is that known as PanTHERIAhttps://esapubs.org/archive/ecol/E090/184/metadata.htm – you can download thedataset itself as a text filehttps://esapubs.org/archive/ecol/E090/184/PanTHERIA_1-0_WR05_Aug2008.txt.This data file contains data on over 5000 species of mammal for a vast array oflife-history variables (see column headings for names and the metadata file linkabove for explanation of terms)Once you have this on your web browser simply select all (command + A, orControl + A) and then paste it into an excel file where you can save it in a formatthat can be read by R. You will notice many entries in the data base filled in as –999: this indicates missing data you will need to get rid of these (chooseEdit>Replace – and replace ‘-999’ with a blank). The file will then be in a formyou can analyse.There is any number of questions you could answer with these data: Threeexamples might beIs there a trade-off (i.e. a negative correlation) between number of offspring(Litter Size) and size of offspring (neonate body mass)?Do mammals that live in larger social groups (social group size) live longer (maxLongevity)?Do mammals with faster rates of metabolism (BasalMetRate_mlO2hr divided byBasalMetRate_g) develop more quickly (gestationLen)?You might want to consider answering a couple of related questions (e.g. havedifferent predictors for the same response variable) as part of your study. Inmost of these cases you will be looking at correlations and regressions, althoughthere are one or two categorical predictors (habitat breadth, trophic level,terrestriality) that could be used as the basis for an ANOVA. Feel free to explorethe entire data set and come up with a set of different questions– for exampleyou could compare individual order of mammals to see if they differfundamentally in some aspect of life history – for example – compare bats(Chiroptera) with the similarly sized rodents (Rodentia) and see whether theirmass-specific metabolic rates are significantly different (perhaps flying meansyou have to have a faster metabolism?)Reference: K. E. Jones et al. 2009. PanTHERIA: a species-level database of lifehistory, ecology, and geography of extant and recently extinct mammals. Ecology90:2648.3Project #3Is the health of people in different parts of Australia predictable from othersocio-economic factors, such as income, education, place of birth etc.? Doesthis vary depending on state?This project requires students to use data from the Australia’s Public HealthInformation Development Unit (PHIDU) to look at regional differences in healthindicators and to test whether various aspects of health are predictable fromsocio-economic factors. Does this vary from state to state? The data are availablefrom http://phidu.torrens.edu.au/social-health-atlases/data#social-health-atlases-ofaustralia-local-government-areas and I recommend you use the Social Health Atlas ofAustralia Statistical Local Government Areas. Pick a state you wish to look at anddownload the relevant data file. I recommend using the SLA locations which arethe first set of data on each worksheet – for example, Victoria’s SLA locations gofrom Alpine – east down to Yarriambiack – south.Our interest is in the health of people in different regions. There is a range ofhealth indicators available – treatable mortality, premature mortality, infantdeaths,levels of particular diseases etc. Choose one of these as your responsevariable – make sure you use population corrected values (don’t use the 95% CIvalues). For socio-economic predictors, there is also a large number available –for example, availability of medical services, levels of childhood immunisation,community strength etc. You might choose to examine two or three predictors ofa particular variable as it’s likely that different things might be important indetermining aspects of public health. Again, make sure you use populationcorrected values (don’t use the 95% CI values). You might also choose tocompare values from different states to see if there are significant differences.Possible Issues to consider:How to choose SLA locations– simple random selection or some form ofstratification? Random is probably the best but avoid selecting 2 locations fromone place (e.g. select only 1 from Ballarat).How many SLA locations to use for each analysis within each state? I suggestusing at least 20.Project #4The influence of pre-treatment type on acacia seed germination andgrowth rateLike many of Australian plant species, acacias have adapted to regimes ofperiodic burning. Acacia seeds will, generally, lie dormant within the soil beduntil a fire triggers them to germinate. To generate seedlings for revegetationworks, nurseries must trigger these seeds to germinate and there are many waysto do this including the use of heat (via ovens), boiling water, physical abrasion(e.g. with sandpaper) and chemical abrasion (e.g. with acid). Different methodsmay result in different germinating rates, as well as, different growth rates. You4could test the most effective method for germinating acacia seeds by treatingseeds with several different methods, leaving them to germinate and using anANOVA design to test a) the mean number of days to germinate or b) the meanheight of seedlings after a certain period. Remember to have a sufficient numberof replicates within each group (at least 20).Project #5The incidence of vaccine preventable diseases and its relationship withvaccine ratesVaccination against infectious disease has been responsible for the dramaticreduction of infections for many diseases that, historically, have had a majornegative impact on human populations. Vaccination rates for Australian childrencan be found on the website (https://www.health.gov.au/healthtopics/immunisation/childhood-immunisation-coverage/historical-coverage-data-tables-forall-children) and the Australian government health website contains statistics onthe incidence of vaccine preventable disease(http://www9.health.gov.au/cda/source/rpt_1_sel.cfm). These data could be used toanswer questions investigating the relationship between vaccination rates andthe incidence of vaccine preventable disease. Both datasets divide data by states,allowing comparison between different states.Project #6The efficacy of different bait types for use as ant attractants.Ants are a common sight whose presence plays an important role in mostterrestrial ecosystems, however when they begin to invade our homes they canbecome a nuisance. One effective way of eradicating nests near homes is to feedthem with poisoned baits that are taken to the nest and fed to the queen. Thesebaits are made of a combination of an attractant and the poison. Commonly theattractant used in these poisons is a sugary solution, however there are somespecies (e.g. the coastal brown ant – Pheidole megacephala) that will not acceptthese baits causing endless anguish for people whose homes are invaded bythese species. You could design a project around testing the attractive propertiesof different potential bait types on ant species using an ANOVA design. Potentialbait types could be placed near to ant nests and after a period of time the numberof ants that occupies the different baits could be measured. Remember to repeatyour experiment sufficient times to ensure that the bait favoured by the ants isn’tjust chance. Furthermore, you may want to repeat the test on different nests ofants, however when doing this ensure you are testing on nests of the samespecies. If you would like to run the experiment on multiple species, you couldtest the same group of baits on different species using a separate ANOVA perspecies to assess which bait is most efficient for each species. You could also setup your ANOVA to use species as your categorical predictor variable and testwhich species is most attracted to each bait.Note: to remove confounding variables make sure you standardise othervariables within your experiment (e.g. the containers used to hold the bait, the5amount of bait used, the time of day and the distance bait sources are placedfrom a nest).Other options for online data sourcesA list of biological databases can be found athttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_biological_databases within this there aremany options for data sources that could be used for this projectGood luck and enjoy!!
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