With the help of the Museum of Natural History (MNH), students of the Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) study abroad program explored parts of UPLB’s Forestry Campus to learn about vegetational analysis and specimen preservation techniques last 13 June 2017. The two topics are part of the sets of learning activities that the Museum has prepared for the ten TAMIU students who will explore several sites in the Philippines to get acquainted with tropical biology and social issues.

The day started with the TAMIU students’ short tour of the museum followed by a welcome and orientation on the Mt. Makiling leg of the study program. During the orientation, TAMIU faculty Dr. Ruby Ynalvez said that the reason why they chose Philippines to be the location of the elective course, aside from its rich biodiversity, is the Filipino culture.

“Our Hispanic-American students find the Philippines an interesting place to visit and learn from. It is a country geographically distant from Mexico yet culturally close to Hispanics,” she said.

As an alumna of UPLB, Dr. Ruby Ynalvez is already familiar with the university and saw that students will have a good and safe stay here. “Here in Los Banos we have collaborating agencies which are very kind enough to help the program,” she added. Last year, the Museum of Natural History has also fielded its experts to assist in the TAMIU’s special course on Exploring Biology in the Tropics.

The first area the group visited was the Makiling Botanic Gardens and Arbor Square, where Associate Professor and MNH Curator Annalee Hadsall and University Researcher Michelle Alejado showed different kinds of tropical flowering and epiphytic plants to the students. They also showed introduced species, such as the teak tree (Tectona grandis) which is commonly used in plantations to produce lumber for construction and furniture.

At the next venue, TAMIU students were taught how to conduct the line transect and quadrat methods, two methods for qualitative vegetation analyses. An interesting insight from Richard, a Sociology student who joined the activities, was that although the methods were taught in the context of natural science, these can also be used in the field of sociology particularly in demography.

While setting up the measurements for the quadrat method, a Biology student, Selena Infante, also shared her thoughts. She said, “I’m learning. The biodiversity here and it is really nice to see this because you do not get to see this at home”

Another student, Alexa Aguilar, added that Philippines, particularly the university, is fortunate to have a rich biodiversity and have been able to preserve it as well.

After lunch, Alejado and Hadsall demonstrated processes in specimen preparation – collection of voucher specimen, preservation using ethyl alcohol, and mounting on herbarium sheets. After the demonstration, the students were tasked to replicate the process. Each of them had the chance to experience obtaining and cutting plant specimens from the field to having the final dried product. For the students to further understand, they also visited the MNH's Forestry Herbarium where thousands of properly prepared voucher specimens are being kept.

Their last activity was dissecting flowers of the angel’s trumpet (Datura metel) and recalled the parts of the flower from earlier lessons in biology at TAMIU. The students understanding and appreciation of all activities during the day were afterwards evaluated through a short quiz.

At the end of the day, the Museum’s officials and curators thanked the students for their active participation while the students were also grateful that the Museum provided a great learning avenue.

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