Month: January 2021

2020 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

2020 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

Lindsay Barranco (M.S.), University of Maryland, Entomology, “Evaluating native bee abundance, diversity and nesting preferences in small-scale wildflower strips”, Maryland
Ground nesting bees are important pollinators and 70% of bee species worldwide nest within the ground, yet little is known about bee nesting preference. This project will measure the abundance, diversity and nesting preferences of ground solitary bees within wildflower strips, bare soil, and turf grass, and “scratched” bare ground areas within these substrates, and evaluate how management practices (i.e., weekly turfgrass mowing), impacts nesting preference. The abundance, diversity and nesting preference by use of emergence traps, pan traps and net sweeping will be compared. Emergence traps have the unique benefit of capturing ground nesting bees upon emergence or nest building. There exists a small body of research that has identified ground nesting bee preference via emergence traps in agricultural lands, prairies and forests but none in the mid-Atlantic area that look at bare ground, wildflowers and turf grass, or the creation of scratched bare areas within or the impacts of grass management. This research will contribute to this body of research by identifying how land use can be augmented for native bee nesting in order to increase pollinator habitat.

Hannah Clipp (Ph.D.), West Virginia University, Forestry and Natural Resources, “Optimizing wildlife openings for game birds and overall avian diversity”, West Virginia
In forested landscapes, wildlife openings created and maintained by land managers provide habitat and food resources for disturbance-dependent, early-successional game species, such as wild turkey, ruffed grouse, and American woodcock. Though managers tend to focus on game birds, wildlife openings can also benefit a myriad of bird species and guilds, including species of conservation concern, depending on local habitat features and landscape-level factors. Yet little effort has been made to investigate how to optimize wildlife openings to attract a full spectrum of bird species throughout spring and summer. The purpose of this study is to examine the use of wildlife openings by game birds, breeding songbirds, and post-breeding songbirds in response to site- and landscape-level wildlife opening attributes. In the spring and summer of 2019, preliminary data included species-specific and community-wide point count surveys, game cameras, autonomous recording units, and mist-netting surveys to sample bird communities in 65 wildlife openings within the Monongahela National Forest in eastern West Virginia. Data collection and statistical analyses are ongoing, but the final results will be used to assist land managers in designing and maintaining wildlife openings that simultaneously support target game bird populations and promote a diverse suite of songbirds.

Alexandra Fireman (M.S.), University of Maryland, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, “On the shell of the turtle: Identifying dietary patterns of the Caribbean hawksbill sea turtle”, Antigua, Maryland
The hawksbill sea turtle is critically endangered, and the extinction of this keystone species could cause severe disruption to their vulnerable coral reef habitats. Understanding the hawksbill’s ecology is critical for effective conservation. However, as a long-lived species, hawksbills can be difficult to study in their oceanic habitats. While elusive in the water, during the nesting season, females crawl onto beaches, providing an accessible opportunity for study of the species. This research plans to use this nesting period to learn about both their reproductive lives on land and their in-water lives. This will be achieved by using 1) diet markers in turtle tissue, 2) satellite tracking data to gain insights into their foraging habitats, and 3) long-term reproductive data to understand individual success. The research will focus on a consistently monitored population of nesting hawksbills in Long Island, Antigua. This work will allow for identification of marine areas that produce reproductively successful female hawksbills. Understanding where the most successful hawksbills live, and their diet allows for targeted conservation of their habitat. This project will have direct conservation impacts for the Long Island hawksbill population but can also serve as a model for the Caribbean and even global populations of hawksbills.

Dawei Han (Ph.D.), University of Maryland, Biology, “Sound localization and hearing sensitivity of the barking gecko (Ptenopus garraulus)”, South Africa
Localization of sound sources is a fundamental task of the auditory system. In mammals, the two ears are unconnected pressure receivers, and sound direction is computed from binaural interactions in the brain. Directional hearing is different in lizards and frogs because the two eardrums interact acoustically through connected middle ear cavities, leading to strongly directional eardrum vibration. Therefore, these animals should have a high capacity to differentiate between nearby sound sources. This prediction has been hard to test in lizards, since most are ambush, or sit-and-wait predators and typically do not vocalize. This study will take advantage of the behavior of a highly vocal lizard species, the barking gecko (Ptenopus garrulus) to test their ability to localize sound. The hypothesis is that female geckos will orient towards male vocalizations during the breeding season by walking in a zig-zag pattern, which has been documented frequently in animals with coupled ears. Auditory brainstem responses will be measured to compare hearing sensitivity of barking geckos to other vocal lizard species. Behavioral evidence for sound localization in extant lizards will provide insight into the early evolution of hearing and sound localization in ancestral land vertebrates, which possessed similarly coupled ears.
Rebecca Hill (Ph.D.), University of Maryland Baltimore County, Biological Sciences, “Vocal development in Grasshopper Sparrows”, Kansas, Maryland
Vocal development is a relatively well studied process in model songbirds such as zebra finches and canaries. This study will focus principally on vocal development in a less studied North American species of conservation concern, the grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum). Grasshopper sparrows appear to show a different pattern of learning than most model songbird species, exhibiting an improvisational rather than imitative process for establishing their adult song repertoire. Furthermore, preliminary data suggests the timing of crystallization (or fixation of the adult repertoire) appears to occur along different trajectories depending on song type A methodology to quantify the timing of crystallization using recordings of grasshopper sparrows throughout the song learning period will be developed. In addition, a series of experiments will be conducted that is intended to manipulate the timing of the crystallization process in a subset of these birds using both natural steroid hormones and steroid-mimicking endocrine disruptors in pesticides to understand how song variation and song aberration may occur in the field. Should the effects of endocrine disrupters in pesticides be linked to abnormal song production and decreased ability to find mates and reproduce would provide reasoning to limit pesticide use containing endocrine disrupters near habitats of grasshopper sparrows. This could lead to more reproductive success in an endangered species and ultimately an increase in a population that has been greatly declining for decades.

Victoria Lockwood (Ph.D.), George Washington University, Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, “Arboreal support diameter choice: Biomechanics, ergonomics, and comparative anatomy”, Tanzania, Washington, DC
This project will assess to what extent locomotor behavior can be inferred from hand bone morphology. The extent that morphology implies function has led to debate, particularly about the evolution of bipedalism. Using a chimpanzee referential model, the investigation will focus on these questions: 1) Is the way chimpanzees use arboreal spaces reflected in their hand skeletal morphology? 2) If so, can this relationship be used to retrodict the arboreal locomotor capabilities of extinct hominins? Some primate species display a preference for certain sized diameters during arboreal locomotion. A detailed analysis of the hand-support interaction is needed to interpret these behavioral decisions. A primate optimal diameter equation will be applied to chimpanzee behavioral observations (Gombe National Park, Tanzania), to assess how individuals use arboreal supports, which will then be tested against skeletal hand morphology. Previously collected modern human data and ergonomic equations will be used to identify high-pressure areas of the chimpanzee hand. The morphology of these areas will be compared to the whole hand. This will allow an interpretation whether, and how, early hominins used their hands to exploit arboreal resources.

Kinsey Tedford (Ph.D.), University of Virginia, Environmental Sciences, “Restoring and sustaining Virginia’s oyster reefs: spatial drivers of oyster populations across multiple spatial scales”, Virginia
Restoration of oyster reefs has the potential to improve the conservation status of depleted oyster populations while enhancing water quality, shoreline protection, biodiversity, and fisheries production. However, oyster restoration has experienced mixed success and lacked clear conclusions on the relative importance of oyster recruitment and survival. This study includes a series of large-scale field experiments to examine the relative importance of abiotic and biotic factors in determining the success of Eastern oyster on restored reefs in coastal Virginia. Specifically, the experiments will test how landscape setting, broad-scale environmental variables, and within- habitat complexities interact to structure oyster recruitment and survival, and their associated communities. The density and size of oysters recruiting to ceramic plates on restored reefs that span 22 km will be measured. Manipulative field experiments involving predator- exclusion cages to assess how the survival of juvenile and adult oysters varies across a landscape with strong differences in hydrodynamic conditions will be conducted. The results from this study will broaden the knowledge of coastal ecology and improve oyster conservation by providing insight on how environmental and geospatial variables mediate the success of restoration actions.

2019 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

2019 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

So Hyun Ahn (Ph.D.), University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory, “The broadening of the window of opportunity for harmful algal blooms in the Yellow Sea, China”, China
Globally, harmful algal blooms (HABs) have been increasing in frequency, magnitude and geographic extent. The coast of the China is one of the world’s regions most affected by HABs and eutrophication, a state where excess nutrients induce excessive algal growth, which may result in oxygen depletion of the water body. In the Yellow Sea, China, there have been not only increases in HABs, but there have also been shifts in non-HAB algae as well, especially heavily silicified diatoms. These diatoms lock up dissolved silica, preventing its seasonal dissolution, in turn enhancing the window of opportunity for growth of non-diatom HAB species to accumulate in summer. This project will focus on the HAB species in conjunction with an ongoing project which targets the biology of these heavily silicified diatoms. The identification of HAB taxa will be performed using high performance liquid chromatography as well as microscopy during seasonal, summer sampling in the Yellow Sea. In addition, studies will be undertaken for the physiological understanding of HAB species and their relationship with changing environment and other organisms. This research will augment ongoing research on HABs in Chesapeake Bay with the aim to develop predictive models of HAB dynamics.

Martin Aucoin (M.A.), West Virginia University, Geography and Geology, “Leave now, build later: exploring the relationship between migration and development in The Gambia, West Africa”, The Gambia
Recent development projects in The Gambia, West Africa, employ economic development strategies to reduce the out-migration of young men to work abroad. Such projects have been largely unsuccessful and out-migration has increased. This project examines the complex reasons young Gambian men choose to migrate abroad to work and explores the relationship between economic development and international migration. Drawing from literature in geography and migration studies, alternate narratives of migration in The Gambia will be studied, and how Gambian returnees actively engage with development in their communities will be quantified. This stage of the project will take place in the city of Banjul, the capital of The Gambia, from where most emigrants leave the nation. Interviews and participant observation will be conducted returned migrants in The Gambia. Further research is planned with members of the diaspora in Philadelphia, a city with a large number of Gambians living abroad. This research will contribute to the scholarship in geography and migration studies examining the relationship between development and international migration and has policy implications for organizations operating in The Gambia and for development agencies in the United States.

Naomi Becker (Ph.D.), Johns Hopkins University, Earth and Planetary Sciences, “Processes and timescales for the development of a convergent plate margin: an investigation into the origin of oceanic rocks along the Appalachians”, Alabama, Georgia
The theory of plate tectonics provides a framework for understanding modern geological processes. According to the theory, continents ‘drift’ over geological timescales, rearranging as a result of the birth and death of oceans, which, in geological terms, are only transient features. Despite decades of research on plate tectonic processes, the mechanisms that initiate the creation and subsequent destruction of oceans remain poorly understood. The Appalachian Mountains stretch from Alabama to Newfoundland and record a full supercontinent cycle resulting from the birth and death of a precursor ocean to the Atlantic, the Iapetus. Samples of Iapetan oceanic crust are preserved within the Appalachian system and have radiometric ages that cluster around 490 million years. This project will test the hypothesis that these rocks represent the onset of the tectonic process of subduction, which led to closure of the Iapetus Ocean. Samples will be collected from across the Appalachians, and geochemical analysis performed to investigate their potential formation within a nascent subduction zone. The focus for the initial study will be an oceanic tract in Alabama and Georgia known as the Dadeville Complex, which will be mapped and sampled for subsequent geochemical characterization work.

Nicolas Amin Hazzi (Ph.D.), George Washington University, Biological Sciences, “Systematics, Evolution and Biogeography of the Tropical Wandering Spiders (Ctenidae)”, Columbia
The study will address the diversity and the evolution of the wandering spiders (Ctenidae) in the Neotropical region. In Colombia, prior to the peace agreement between the government and the FARC-EP guerrilla at the end of 2016, many areas with high species diversity were inaccessible for biological studies. During more than 50 years of war, knowledge of a large important portion of Colombian´s biodiversity was hindered. Field collections will be made in unexplored areas such as the Chocó biodiversity hotspot and the Amazonian region, where members of this family are restricted to pristine forests and can reach their highest species richness. DNA sequences and morphological examination will allow the discovery of new species and the reconstruction of an evolutionary tree of Neotropical co-distributed ctenid genera. Based on this tree, a biogeographic analysis will be used to test geographic diversification hypotheses that help to explain how the geological and climatic events in the past influence the evolution and distribution of ctenids in the Neotropics. The goals are to discover new species in these unexplored areas, to expand knowledge of the geographic distribution of ctenids and to obtain an evolutionary framework to test hypotheses of diversification in the Neotropics. Data collected will be important in the development of conservation strategies prior to interest in these areas for agriculture and industry.

Edward Andrew Hobbs, Jr. (M.S.), University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, “Controls on nitrous oxide distribution and air-sea flux in estuarine waters”, Maryland
Nitrous oxide (N2O) has a greenhouse gas potential ~300 times greater than carbon dioxide and is produced in estuaries via biogeochemical processes. Despite the importance of this gas, there is still a large knowledge gap regarding N2O distributions and controls in polluted waters. Excessive nutrients in estuaries alter water column oxygen, impacting biogeochemical rates within the nitrogen cycle and affecting N2O availability. The goal of this project is to measure N2O availability and air-water flux across a range of environments to better understand the role of estuaries in producing N2O. Study sites include Rock Creek, a tidal tributary to the Patapsco River (Maryland) where an engineered aeration system has been operating since 1988, which can be turned off to simulate ecosystem-scale deoxygenation and its impact on N2O availability. N2O will also be measured in two systems adjacent to Rock Creek that have similar characteristics but do not have aeration. These efforts will be complemented by N2) measurements made at a fixed station in the Patuxent River, a moderately polluted Chesapeake Bay tributary, and during two Patuxent-wide samples cruises. These new data will significantly broaden the understanding of N2) cycling, air-water flux, and distribution within eutrophic estuarine systems.

Olanrewaju Lasisi (Ph.D.), College of William and Mary, Anthropology, “History of Archaeological Research in the Yoruba-Edo region of Nigeria: New Directions for Urban Earthen-works”, Nigeria
The Ijebu kingdom is well-known in the historic Atlantic trade, as a nexus between the coastal and interior of the Yoruba-Edo region of West Africa. Oral traditions, early European travel accounts and remains of monumental architecture still visible in the landscape point to Ijebu and its capital, Ijebu-Ode, as centers of power. Yet, the archaeology of this early African polity remains largely unknown. Archaeological surveys conducted in the 1990s revealed that the core of the kingdom was surrounded by a 180 km enclosure. This project focuses on the capital of Ijebu, a large urban center that stood in the center of the monumental enclosure. Using a landscape perspective, this research project seeks to document the depositional history of Ijebu-Ode, and study long-term changes in the shape and functions of urban and territorial enclosures. Three research questions guide this study: What is the chronological and functional relationship between the urban and the territorial enclosures? How was the urban space defined by the enclosure socially structured? What can the archaeological record tell us about change and continuity in the life and social stratification of the inhabitants of Ijebu-Ode during the second half of the second millennium? This project will the first to examine the chronological data and extent of Ijebu Ode fortifications and will be central to further research in this area.

Vaughn M. Shirey (Ph.D.), Georgetown University, Biology, “The evolution and ecology of high-latitude butterflies with special focus on their biological traits and climate change”, Canada
No habitat on Earth is experiencing more dramatic climatic change than Earth’s arctic; however, much of the endemic insect fauna of the region is severely understudied, leading to significant knowledge gaps with respect to artic ecology. Butterflies represent a well-documented group of insects that will aid in alleviating these knowledge gaps. This project focuses on uncovering the ecological attributes of butterflies in the arctic, specifically still under-documented aspects of their behavior through field work in the Yukon Territory. The data will be examined in tandem with data collected from published field guides and scientific literature to understand the nature of butterfly adaptation to the arctic and how these adaptations may impact these species with respect to of climate change. This project will bridge the gap between data-intensive ecology and field work and elucidate the eco-evolutionary dynamics of a threatened and relatively unexplored ecosystem. A goal of this research is to leverage those data to model how butterfly communities in the arctic have responded and are most likely to respond in the future to changing arctic conditions. Results from the study will become part of an international, global effort to compile ecological, morphological, and evolutionary information on all butterfly species.