Scientific journals don’t make a habit of publishing undergraduate student’s work — in fact, it’s quite uncommon. However, Will Sherwin (a Quest Alumni) recently proved it’s not impossible. His Keystone research project was recognized in the journal Evolution.
“Evolution is a high ranking journal in the field of evolutionary biology and it is rare that an undergrad’s work gets published.” says Thor Veen, a Life Sciences Tutor at Quest.
Sherwin’s published keystone evolved naturally from his Question, ‘How can Ethology (the science of animal behavior) Inform Conservation Biology?’.
“I have always been fascinated with why animals do what they do and how we can use that understanding to create effective conservation strategies,” explaines Sherwin. “I grew up on a small farm with a spring-fed pond where I would spend all my time reading about and observing turtles and frogs.”
Will Sherwin in the Peruvian Rainforest, 2019. A Quest Field Study block led by Thor Veen.
(Photograph by Thor Veen)
Sherwin’s work has helped to highlight the necessity of rethinking the long-standing dimorphism–richness hypothesis.
That is, females and males of the same species frequently differ in size and structure to utilize their ecological living space.
The hypothesis predicts that when a closely related ecologically similar species arrives the living space is reduced through competition. Thus, the physical differences between the sexes will reduce over time.
However, Sherwin utilized data collected from Mosquito Lagoon, Florida to convincingly demonstrate that the green anole (lizard) species did not change after the introduction of the cuban anole some years ago. Here, half the island had only green anole and half came to have both anole species, but the green anole showed changes in neither sexes. .
“All of the data collected for this project was done in 2010 by Yoel Stuart. Yoel is an amazing man” says Sherwin. “He collected the data for a different project he was working on but did not end up using much of the biometric data he collected. So he had this amazing dataset that was not being used and seemed tailor-made for our question.”
Sherwin is quick to recognize that his accomplishment was an extremely collaborative effort, “I have always wanted to write a paper for publication but I thought it was out of my grasp. Without the constant patience and help from both Yoel and Thor, I would not have even graduated! They really brought me along in the process and I am so grateful to them both.”
Although Sherwin says he was initially drawn to Quest for the Block Program, what he came to appreciate the most are the tutors, “There are some amazing people working there that genuinely want to see you succeed.”
When asked what his advice would be to students who want to emulate his path, Sherwin gives this advice, “Ask tutors and be open to what comes your way! Honestly, I sometimes felt like a hook that got caught in a shark’s mouth! Annoying, but there’s no slowing down a shark!”
Sherwin plans to pursue further specialization, “I am not sure exactly what [the future] looks like as of now, but I am applying to different grad programs and seeing what shakes out.”