Ashley Garlick searched for a match to the African mayfly that was beneath her microscope.
The 22-year-old recent IUPUC graduate was trying to catalog the many species of mayflies that live in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania.
But the mouth of this insect was subtly different from the others. Garlick wondered if she had discovered a new species.
In all likelihood, the species is new, although researchers will aneed time to confirm this, said Luke Jacobus, assistant professor of biology at IUPUC.
“It’s always exciting when something like this happens, especially when it’s a student that makes the discovery,” Jacobus said. “It testifies to the work that she put in.”
Garlick’s project was to catalog the various kinds of African mayflies so natives there could use them to gauge levels of water pollution. Mayflies are known to be keenly sensitive to environmental issues, Jacobus said.
Garlick, of Seymour, showcased her project along with 21 other students and nine faculty members — split into 10 teams — in IUPUC’s annual Student Research Exhibition on April 23. Garlick and Jacobus were on the same student-faculty team.
The school’s Office of Student Research had offered each team $1,000, which the teams used to help develop projects. To earn the grants for the 2012-13 academic year, students submitted detailed project proposals, passed a rigorous vetting process by a review committee and completed projects with direction and guidance from faculty mentors.
“These innovative research projects have important impacts on various target populations and communities,” said Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick, who directs the program at IUPUC. “Completing the work has been an excellent opportunity for students to integrate their academic knowledge with professional research.”
Projects included patients’ tolerance for feeding tubes and factors that affect college students’ online purchases on social media websites.
Garlick, who obtained the insects from a friend of her professor and didn’t go to Tanzania herself, used a special $700 camera she purchased with her IUPUC grant to photograph dead mayflies beneath a microscope. She said she found 49 genera from 11 families that are known to live in Tanzania.
But it was her examination of one of those mayflies — one no larger than a staple — that provided the real excitement.
Garlick couldn’t find the mayfly in any reference books and other research materials that she had used to identify every other mayfly up to that point.
She took the specimen in a vial to her professor, who conducted research and determined it was probably new to science.
“At first I was frustrated, because I couldn’t find it in any book,” Garlick said. “Once I realized what I had, I was excited.”
Garlick, who has a degree in psychology and eventually wants to become an animal behaviorist or zookeeper, said she looks forward to naming the new mayfly species if her professor can confirm the discovery. Garlick said she might come up with a name that honors the fact that she has a twin brother.
Jacobus said he is proud of Garlick for making “a real contribution to global research.” He said he hopes to see her work published in an academic journal and for other students to build on the cataloging exercise that she began.
“As far as I know, there’s never been a good list for the diversity of mayflies in Tanzania,” Jacobus said. “This is a first.”
Discoveries of insects are fairly common, regardless of whether they’re new or simply new discoveries, Jacobus said. He said he was part of a team a few years ago that discovered a new species of mayfly in Columbus’ Tipton Lakes area.
As it turns out, that mayfly wasn’t unique to Tipton Lakes, Jacobus said. He said others have been found since then in other central and eastern areas of the United States.
Mayfly species number about 3,000 worldwide, Jacobus said.