Hello! My name is Cari Ritzenthaler and I'm currently a Master's student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. My thesis research focuses on invertebrates (e.g. millipedes, isopods, ants, beetles, etc.), specifically the tiny ones the live on the forest floor.
You might remember Mufasa from the Lion King saying "When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great circle of life." Mufasa must have known about these little bugs I study, because they are exactly what help the once living organism become the grass! These tiny bugs will break down organic matter, whether it be an animal or simply a leaf, and returns it's nutrients back into the soil for plants to use once more. With out this recycling of nutrients, our forests wouldn't be able to grow as well as they do now. Of course, the bugs aren't the only organisms at play here, there are so a number of bacteria and fungi. But without the bugs, this process is A LOT slower. So, I was interested in what make these bugs tick.
My research looked at how nutrition of the leaf litter can affect the number of invertebrates present or how active they are. They want a nutritious meal, just as much as we do! In fact, if they could I bet they would love a plate of kale. But they're stuff with dead, crunchy leaves. Lucky for them, different trees have different chemical make ups, meaning some are more nutritious than others. I was wondering if they would seek out these more nutritious leaves. What would happen if I added some extra nutrients? Such as calcium, which they need to create functioning exoskeletons. The verdicts still out as I am just not analyzing my data, but I'd be happy to share the results with you once I know!
Bugs are not my only love! I adore all aspects of nature. More than anything though, I enjoy sharing my love for nature with others. I taught a summer field ecology course previous in Hocking Hills Ohio working with the PAST Foundation in between my Bachelor's and Master's degree. While I didn't get to lead scientific projects with the students, I did teach them how to collect data and become a great field ecologist. Sharing my love for science and nature at the same time with these middle and high school aged students was the most rewarding experience I've had yet.
I've also participated in the Girl Power event at Imagination Station in Toledo, Ohio. The entire goal of this event is to encourage girls to be interested and involved in science. This was an awesome experience. You could physically see the little girls eyes light up when I said "Hi my name's Cari and I study bugs!" They didn't correct me and say "bug are for boys," but one did look up at me and say "could I do that too?" My heart broke and I immediately took our live millipede out of the cage and let her hold her. She was so thrilled and I knew from that day on that I wanted to invoke that look of discovery in every child.
I'm so excited to get started in Planting Science's mentorship program. I'm excited to help our future scientists conduct their own experiment. Thank you for considering me as a mentor for your students!