2016 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

2016 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

Laurence Dumouchel, Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, George Washington University, “What the world looked like when we started walking upright: The environments of the earliest Australopithecus”, Kenya.

  • Australopithecus anamensis, the earliest undisputed hominin and obligate biped, lived in eastern Africa around 4 million years ago, but fossil remains associated with this species are only found at a handful of sites. Three main fossil sites in the Omo-Turkana Basin (Kanapoi, Allia Bay and Mursi) preserve sediments of this age. However, the abundance of hominin fossils at these sites differs, with the majority (c.70%), of the fossils attributed to anamensis being found at Kanapoi, some (c. 30%) from Allia Bay, and none so far at Mursi. Preliminary paleoecological analyses suggest that there are differences in the environments of these three sites. The project proposed here will test predictions relating hominin abundance to habitat and answer the following question: What were the paleoenvironments of Australopithecus anamensis in the Omo-Turkana Basin and how did they vary among sites? This project will combine taxonomic, ecomorphological and mesowear data to analyze the animal fossils at each site. The results will undoubtedly shed light on the context of the environmental drivers of human bipedal locomotion, an adaptation that played a crucial role in our evolutionary success.

 Sean Knox, Frostburg State University, Biology, “Migration Chronology of Waterfowl and Associated Wetland Food Production at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Morris County, New Jersey”.

Waterfowl rely on a long line of stopover sites during migration between their wintering and breeding grounds. Along with naturally occurring wetlands, managed wetlands serve as valuable locations where waterfowl can rest and feed. To effectively manage wetlands for certain waterfowl species, knowledge of area-specific migration trends and wetland food production is key. This study will document the waterfowl migration chronology and associated food production of five managed freshwater wetlands located within Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Morris County, New Jersey. To determine migration chronology, weekly ground surveys will be conducted in the spring and fall of 2015 and 2016 using protocols based on the Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring Program for the North Atlantic Region. To quantify waterfowl food production, spring and fall sampling will be conducted immediately prior to the arrival of migrating waterfowl, with 20 sampling sites allocated within each wetland. Spring sampling will consist of aquatic invertebrates and belowground seeds, while fall sampling will add in aboveground seeds, tubers, and submerged aquatic vegetation present at each sampling site. Once completed, data will serve as a baseline reference for the Refuge, and will assist Refuge staff in managing wetlands to support the greatest diversity of migrating waterfowl.

Sean M. Lee, George Washington University, Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, “Trade-offs between social & physical development in wild bonobos (Pan paniscus)”, Republic of Congo.

Life history theory examines the manner in which organisms allocate energy across different functions over the lifespan in order to maximize reproductive success. This study aims to characterize development, an important period of life history, in one of our closest living relatives, bonobos. Specifically, this study will examine how resources are allocated to two primary components of development, social development and physical growth, and how this is influenced by maternal condition. This is significant because both components are important to human and non-human primates, yet previous research has focused primarily on physical growth. Further, bonobos, along with chimpanzees, are our closest living relatives; extensive research has been carried out on wild chimpanzees, but much less is known about wild bonobos. Therefore, by collecting these data for the first time and using it to compare to chimpanzee development and life history, researchers from various disciplines can learn more about the evolution of human development and life history, thereby expanding understanding of humans’ place in the universe.

Alice Millikin, West Virginia University, School of Natural Resources, “Assessing Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) population health in created isolated wetlands to inform habitat creation”, West Virginia.

Wetland habitat is critical to the survival of many amphibians including Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum). Spotted Salamanders mate, deposit eggs and complete metamorphosis in isolated fishless wetlands. However, isolated wetlands are not protected due to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lack of protection is mitigated by creating new isolated wetlands. However, there is limited research on successful establishment of amphibian breeding populations in created pools. Wetland creation could be improved by documenting created pool successes and failures. The goal of this research is to determine which habitat characteristics are conducive to a healthy Spotted Salamander population quantified by disease prevalence, genetic diversity and stress hormone levels. Sampling sites include 30 isolated wetlands created by Monongahela National Forest, WV in 2011, 2013 and 2014. The first field season was completed in 2015 with the second and final field season to follow in 2016.  This research will improve understanding of a new non-invasive hormone test called water-borne hormone assays in field studies. This research will also improve future wetland creation and management and our understanding of local environmental effects on disease prevalence, stress hormone levels, and genetic diversity.

Becca Peixotto, American University, Anthropology, “Exploration and Archeological Survey in the Great Dismal Swamp”, Virginia.

Thousands of marginalized people lived in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina, circa 1680-1860. Enslaved laborers built canals and harvested timber for lumber companies. Deep in the Swamp’s interior, maroons, people of African descent fleeing the oppressive conditions of slavery, sought a measure of freedom. This project employs targeted exploration and archaeological survey to define the maroons’ hidden landscape which emerged through resistance to the control of people and space in the Tidewater region. This project will locate and map small islands, a scattered network of which formed the foundation of living space for maroons and enslaved laborers alike.

LiDAR data and information gleaned from historic maps and documents will guide on- the-ground exploration. The resulting new maps and subsequent archaeological testing will enable researchers to chart shifting land-use and material culture patterns and begin to answer questions about how maroons dealt with changes that accompanied canal and timber development and threatened their place of refuge. By going beyond previous site- focused research in the Dismal Swamp to investigate a new geographical area, this research examines how maroons made lives for themselves in a place that was viewed by outsiders as wild and forbidding.

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