Hobart and William Smith Colleges - Biology Lab: Castle Creek
The HWS Update
Castle Creek

Biology Lab: Castle Creek

When McKenzie Frazier ’20 took “Introductory Biology” as a first-year student, she didn’t expect to head to downtown Geneva as part of her lab work. But it was that field trip that “kick-started some of the best experiences I’ve had at the Colleges,” says Frazer, who this fall serves as the lab’s teaching assistant.

Under the guidance of Director of Introductory Biology Laboratories Susan Cushman, Frazier and students visited Castle Creek, a stream that flows through agricultural and suburban land, through downtown Geneva and under Routes 5 & 20 before it empties into Seneca Lake south of the Finger Lakes Welcome Center.

Children walk Castle Creek on the way to and from school. Commuters pass over it every day. It sweeps along, unnoticed by most who cross its path. That is, until Hobart and William Smith biology students show up with their waders, nets and pans to uncover what lives in Geneva’s most urbanized stream watershed.

Cushman takes students on a field trip to Castle Creek every fall. There, they collect samples from fast-flowing riffles and deeper pools in order to examine the organisms, called macroinvertebrates, that begin life in the creek.

Studying the insects who live under water for the first part of their lives before hatching into terrestrial, flying adults — such as dragonflies — gives students a peek into the food web that exists within the stream (the insects are a food source for fish, herons and other predators).

Students also collect data on water quality, including dissolved oxygen, temperature and velocity in pools and riffles. “We drink water from Seneca Lake, and some of that water comes from Castle Creek,” Cushman says, so an examination of water quality is “a reinforcement that it’s all connected.”

This level of hands-on field and lab work is a new experience for many of Cushman’s students. “This is something that might be done in an aquatic biology or stream ecology class,” she says. “We could give them a bunch of numbers to play with on the computer, but going outside and collecting data with your lab partner means so much more.”

Frazier is also conducting an independent study with Cushman and has worked as an intern at the Finger Lakes Institute. “The Castle Creek lab experience is unique in that it gets students off campus and out into the ecosystem they learn about at HWS and that they are surrounded by,” Frazier says.