Crickets That Purr: Biology Professor Brings Research Opportunity to SAU


Before Dale Broder, PhD, joined the St. Ambrose University Biology Department last year, she was involved in a University of Denver research group that made a remarkable discovery - a cricket that purrs, rather than chirps, to attract mates.

To study the effects of traffic noise on cricket communication, Broder and her colleagues spent 30 days at the Kalaupapa National Historic Site on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. A virtually uninhabited area, the quietness served as the perfect control to observe the Hawaiian field crickets.

Broder began teaching at St. Ambrose in August 2018, but continues to collaborate with her team in Denver weekly via Skype. Her transition to St. Ambrose also was an opportunity to get students involved in the ground-breaking research.

"Bringing my research here was something I talked about a lot in my interview, and the department has been extremely supportive of this endeavor. They purchased an incubator and we're going to be working with these crickets regularly here at St. Ambrose," Broder said.

Senior Aaron Wikle is working closely with Broder to collect cricket data. He now plans to pursue a graduate degree focusing on biological research. Using funds raised through Kickstarter, Wikle spent 15 days of his winter break working side-by-side with Broder studying crickets in Hawaii.

"I'm very fortunate to have this experience," said Wikle. "The opportunity to perform real research in the field as an undergraduate is very exciting. I feel very confident heading in this new direction, thanks to my experience with Dr. Broder."

Spending time at the Kalaupapa National Historic Site required Broder to apply for permits, fill out paperwork and find a sponsor months in advance. Everything was ready - until the shutdown of the federal government prior to Christmas. National Park Service workers were not allowed to enter the area for fear of losing their jobs.

"We didn't know what to do," said Broder. "We had already paid for our flights and everything."

The opportunity to perform real research in the field as an undergraduate is very exciting. I feel very confident heading in this new direction, thanks to my experience with Dr. Broder.

Senior Aaron Wikle

Unexpectedly, it was a little faith that saved them.

Days before their scheduled departure, a pastor from the St. Elizabeth Convent and Bishop Home in Kalaupapa offered to sponsor and host Broder, Wikle, and the rest of the research team. They spent 15 days sleeping on the floor of the church, spending their nights with Pastor Richard, Sister Barbara Jean Wajda and Sister Alicia Damien Lau searching for crickets on the front lawn of the Abbey.

"It was very cool to have nuns helping us with evolutionary research," Broder said. She has secured additional funding to take a student researcher to Kalaupapa for the next three years. Wikle plans to return with Broder this summer to collect data for his own independent research, which Broder is confident will be published.

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