by Meredith Dault
December 2, 2010
Samantha Klaus knows a thing or two about what an amorous frog sounds like. That's because the first year Master's of Science candidate is studying variations in frog calling behavior -- particularly, their mating calls. Klaus is especially interested in how environmental factors such as wind, rain and temperature affect when frogs begin calling each year, and what that may reveal about larger issues around climate change.
"I'm looking at nine different species," says Klaus, whose research area covers a wide swath of eastern Ontario. The frog calls are gathered using audio recorders stuck into the ground, along with devices to measure environmental factors, like precipitation. Klaus says she expects to gather about 4,000 hours worth of frog calls over the course of her two-year degree program. They'll be supplemented by another 5,000 or so hours gathered over the last few years by her supervisor, Steve Lougheed. Klaus, who now has fifteen volunteer undergraduates helping with the enormous task of logging all those audio-hours, says the task is to both identify what kind of frog is calling, along with details like the intensity of their sounds.
The fact that Klaus is doing audio work within biology is itself rather fitting. Though she studied biology as an undergraduate at Carleton University, Klaus devoted half her time to studying French and Italian, ultimately earning an arts degree, rather than one in science. So when it came time to apply to graduate school, Klaus was torn. "I was still debating between cultural language or acoustic behavior studies within biology."
She was swayed to biology after meeting Lougheed on a biology field course. "I took the course through Carleton, but it let me go to the Queen's biological station," she recalls. There, she met Lougheed, who introduced the group to his frog research, even letting them work directly with the recorders. "I thought, that's neat," she laughs. "I never thought I would be working with him directly on that particular study!"
Though Klaus applied to a number of graduate programs, she says her decision to come to Queen's was the right one. "I realized afterwards, it's not just the university, but the city that you live in. I fell in love when I came to Kingston to visit. I really love the city a lot." And while many programs were concerned that her degree wasn't in science, Klaus says Lougheed saw it as an advantage. "He likes people who have different backgrounds, and who are more broad in their studies," she explains. "It brings different perspectives to the lab."
When she's not working at the lab, Klaus keeps busy with a number of organizations within her field. She is involved with the Kingston chapter of the Society of Conservation Biology as part of the committee that deals with fish and frogs. "We go to elementary schools and we discuss drain water pollutions with them, along with what people can do to help rivers and lakes," she explains. "We paint fish and frogs on the street beside drains (to remind people of our connection to nature) -- it's legal graffiti!" Klaus also volunteers with the Young Naturalists, and organization that teaches kids between the ages of six and twelve about nature in Kingston.
Though she's busy, Klaus, who hopes to pursue a PhD after taking some time to teach overseas, says her extracurricular work helps her from becoming too focused on her work. "It keeps me sane in between the frog calls," she laughs. "You really can get to the point where you start hearing frogs when you wake up in the morning!"