PITTSBURG — For a second year, Pittsburg State University students are collecting data for a Smithsonian Institution national project that will paint a picture of the diversity of mammal life across the U.S.


Biology major Caleb Durbin, of Chanute, Kansas, is the lead undergraduate, collaborating with Assistant Professor Christine Brodsky, a certified wildlife biologist, on Snapshot USA. Together, they’re setting out and monitoring camera traps in nature areas throughout Pittsburg.


The project began in September and will continue through October.


"We’re trying to document which mammals exist here and the impact that humans have on them," Durbin said. "Researchers are doing this in all 50 states, and we were chosen for Kansas."


It’s the first such survey conducted by wildlife professionals rather than citizen scientists, and ultimately will inform national conservation and management strategies.


The Smithsonian first chose PSU to represent Kansas last year during its inaugural survey, based upon urban ecology research Durbin published on Digital Commons. In two months, the PSU team captured more than 8,000 images of 16 mammal species: deer, raccoon, gray and fox squirrel, opossum, eastern cottontail rabbit, mouse species, rat species, armadillo, coyote, groundhog, domestic cats and dogs, striped skunk, beaver, and bobcats. Those photos became part of the Smithsonian’s national wildlife database, eMammal, available to the public at https://emammal.si.edu/snapshot-usa.


"I’m always so excited when we go out to collect a card," Durbin said. "As soon as we get back, I ask Dr. B. if we have time to look through the photos."


Brodsky’s Mammalogy class is assisting this year’s efforts and it’s giving them, and Durbin, valuable hands-on field experience.


"Dr. B., Dr. George, Dr. Snow — they all take us out into the field which gives us the chance to learn field research hands-on," Durbin said.


The education he got in mammalogy class also helps, he added. In it, students must learn to identify the more than 100 mammals that live in the Four State region, from the gray bat to the 13-lined ground squirrel.


That field and classroom experience, along with the Smithsonian project, also gave him the edge when it came to a summer position on a field team with the Ecological Services division of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism.


"We were sampling bats and small mammals across the state," he said. "I had such a great summer — we were in Scott City, Sedan, Burlington — it was an amazing experience, and I got paid. During my interview, I presented a PowerPoint about my Snapshot USA work and I think that sealed the deal."


In November, Durbin and his classmates will be using their latest findings in the nationwide "Snapshot Symposium," and are hoping they do as well as they did at last year’s Kansas Natural Resources Conference in which they won the Best Student Wildlife Poster Award.