Back to Top
My Portal  |   Canvas  |   Distance Education  |   A - Z Index  |   Directory  |   People   Disability Accommodation Resources

Research Methods

The Flying with Swallows (FWS) project at Moreno Valley College (MVC) is conducted along two lines of inquiry: Ecosystem Survey and Ecosystem Investigation.


Ecosystem Survey

Ecosystem Survey of MVC conducted by biology students includes two initiatives: “Who Lives Here” and “Adopt the Window”.


Who Lives Here

Monitoring fauna living around MVC is a long-term project conducted by Bio-12/61 (Introduction to Population and Organismal Biology) students. Every semester students deploy cameras in the college surroundings and at the Ben Clark Center. Scheduling deployments is a group effort to promote student collaboration and communication. Collected data is presented on MVC Fauna maps posted on ArcGIS online. Students are trained how use the ArcGIS software to enter their data. Geographic Information System software, ArcGIS, was donated to MVC by Esri (Environmental Systems Research Institute) in Redlands, California. The software is considered the most advanced GIS mapping software available. The best pictures from camera trapping are used to create a slide show of animals living around MVC.

Bio-61 students also prepare a one-page flyer about an animal or plant species that lives in the MVC area. The data include pictures of the species, its biology, recorded appearances (maps are preferred) and evaluation of the appearance in relation to local weather, pollution, urban developments, etc. The best handouts are presented to the college on the poster boards in Science and Technology Building and on the FWS website.

Interactive fauna maps by year (ArcGIS login required): 2018 | 2017 | Fall 2016 | Spring 2016 | Fall 2015 | Spring 2015


Fauna maps at MVC, spring 2016 (left), fall 2016 (middle), and 2017 (right)


Adopt the Window

Timelapse of Science & Technology Building
window. Video by student Daniel Pierce.

Bio-61 and Bio-1 students are assigned to specific windows where the cliff swallows build their nests. The assignment includes recording the history of nests he/she adopts on minimum weekly bases from the moment of construction or inhabitation to the end of the spring/summer course in the journal form. Project report should also contain photos, videos, samples collected around the nest such as feathers, pieces of nests, fresh droppings.

The entire MVC community has been invited to participate in this Adopt a Window initiative. All data is posted on ArcGIS annual Swallows maps. Future swallow observations will include local schools, buildings and bridges known to be inhabited by these birds.

Interactive nesting maps by year (ArcGIS login required): 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | View all maps as a PDF


Swallow nesting maps from 2014 (left) and 2015 (right)


Ecosystem Investigation

Students conducting research

Ecosystem Investigation of MVC is conducted by biology students identifying insects living on MVC campus and insects consumed by cliff swallows, and by chemistry students developing and implementing of methods to measure water and soil contents used by swallows to build their nests.

Insect are identified by Bio-11/60 (Introduction to Molecular and Cell Biology) and Bio-60H students using modern DNA barcoding technique. Insect DNA is isolated using Qiagen’s Stool Isolation Kit. The samples are then subjected to PCR to amplify the targeted Catechol Oxidase 1 mitochondrial gene (658 bp) using Folmer primers. Purification of DNA from an agarose gel is performed using Qiagen’s Gel Purification Kit, and samples are sent for sequencing. The bioinformatics software, FinchTV, is used to visualize and clean the resulting chromatogram. The final trimmed sequence was input into NCBI’s BLAST to identify insect species.

Insects identified by DNA barcoding that were found in stomachs of cliff swallows at Moreno Valley College, CA as of spring 2018 include:

Fire ant (Solenopsis aurea) Plant bug (Arhyssus crassus) Drywood termite (Incisitermes minor)
Fire ant (Solenopsis aurea), Plant bug (Arhyssus crassus), and Drywood termite (Incisitermes minor)

Insect species identified in the MVC cliff swallow diet, fire ants, plant bugs and drywood termites, represent categories of insect with different importance to local environment. According to Purcell7 from University of California, Riverside (UCR), there are three fire ant species native to MVC area and one closely related species of invasive fire ants. Future studies in collaboration with Dr. Purcell will address the question if cliff swallows forage native or invasive species of fire ants. Plant bugs (piercing and sap sucking insects) are known insect pests, therefore elimination of these insects by swallows might benefit local agriculture. The western drywood termite is known as the single most damaging insect pest in the United Stated, their feeding habits having an estimated impact of $250 million per year in repairs to private and public structures in California and Arizona alone, cliff swallows may act as an effective natural deterrent to the economic impact of these pests. Cliff swallows are known to provide biological defense again other insect pests, such as mosquitos.

More detailed information about Ecosystem Investigations conducted by biology students can be found in the FWS project posters and publications.

Ecosystem Investigations accomplished by chemistry students included working on methods to measure water and soil contents used by swallows to build their nests. The resulting eight research laboratories support student inquiry and mastery of basic research laboratory skill sets. While the research goal for each is defined the students have control of how the method is applied. Critical thinking about experimental design is a key focus of this Chemistry program. The curriculum will be submitted to Chemical Education Exchange which has as a major emphasis to serve two-year college audiences in an interactive web platform. To learn more about FWS project Ecosystem Investigations, view the publication prepared by Diane Marsh, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Chemistry.