He was called the "salamander commander" for his million-dollar study of salamanders on Marian University's campus in 2022. Now, Marian's assistant professor of biology, Robert Denton, Ph.D., jumped at the chance to help save endangered frogs in Arizona and New Mexico this past summer, thanks to a federal $112-thousand-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
"Our research group is providing federal conservation biologists with crucial genetic data to help protect and recover the threatened Chiricahua Leopard Frog," Dr. Denton said. "This partnership not only recognizes our expertise and capability for scientific research, but it also provides real hands-on training for students in molecular biology, genetics, and wildlife conservation."
A group of Marian biology students, including Linet Rivas '25 and Tamyra Hunt '25, got to catch frogs, see different wetland habitats, and work alongside conservation professionals in what students called "the Denton Lab."
"My current project is to assemble the whole genome for the species to be used in future conservation studies," said Rivas '25. "The Conservation of the Chiricahua Leopard Frog is challenging but rewarding."
Hunt '25 agreed, saying she was grateful to be part of the Arizona and New Mexico conservation effort. "Contributing to this vital work allows me to play a role in preserving the leopard frogs and provides an invaluable opportunity for personal growth."
The hands-on type of research is what students say they appreciate since it will enhance their future careers, and Dr. Denton noted that it is invaluable research.
"Instead of only learning these skills from a textbook or lecture, these students are getting paid to actually sequence genomes, work with professionals in the field, and see their results in action," Dr. Denton added.
"Collaborative research under the skilled mentorship of an expert helps students apply curricular concepts to real-world challenges," added assistant provost for research and scholarship Jonathan Lowery, Ph. D. "Dr. Denton's work is an excellent example of what makes the Marian research environment distinctive."
"Engaging in this research has not only expanded my understanding of conservation but has also challenged me to acquire advanced research skills, exceeding my current level of expertise," said Hunt '25.
The frog research project, funded until July 2024, and others like it keep Dr. Denton searching for more.
"I'm enormously grateful for these opportunities to aid amphibian conservation efforts and train the next generation of scientists," Dr. Denton said. "More importantly, Marian's Franciscan values—especially those related to stewardship, animals, and the environment—make this institution a perfect home for this project."
Projects like this one and others, Dr. Denton said, align with Marian's vision of providing an education distinguished in its ability to prepare transformative leaders for service to the world.
"Catholic universities are called to use our talents for a greater good so that all of creation can flourish," said Dr. Lowery. "Dr. Denton, his student collaborators, and countless other members of the Marian University community are making a real difference. Our steadfast service to a changing world is but the next chapter in our cherished Franciscan heritage."
After graduation, Rivas '25 plans to attend medical school and work toward a career as a Diagnostic Radiologist, while Hunt '25 plans a career in Epidemiology after attending graduate school.