Underneath damp piles of blackened mud and dead leaves in Rock Creek Park and the George Washington Parkway lives a rare and curious shrimp-like creature named an amphipod. Along with the bald eagle and the mountain lion, it is one of D.C.’s three indigenous animals to make the endangered species list.
David Culver, environmental science professor and associate dean for the sciences, and Ben Hutchins, MS student in biology, are conducting research on these amphipods for the National Park Service. “Our mission is to discover exact locations of amphipods and offer suggestions on ways they can be protected,” says Culver.
Culver and Hutchins spend much of their time trekking along the banks of Rock Creek or the Potomac River. Using a specially designed pump, they collect the animals from the ground and take them back to the lab where Hutchins extracts DNA from each sample and maps gene sequences. “This has been a fascinating project for me. The more I work on it, the more engrossed I become.”
From Experience Stems Opportunity
Hutchins hopes to leverage this experience and land a job working for an organization such as the Nature Conservancy or the Environmental Protection Agency. For Culver this project is an extension of his lifelong interest in amphipods and other sightless creatures that live in the dark. “There is something that draws me to these little blind animals and their strange and fragile habitat. There isn’t a lot of research on them yet, and I’d like to find out more about them.”