Month: August 2018

2018 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

2018 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

Samantha Gleich (Ph.D.), University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory, “Water quality and the silification of diatom communities of the Anacostia River, Chesapeake Bay”, Virginia.
The Anacostia River is a highly polluted tributary of Chesapeake Bay that runs through Washington D.C. and empties into the Potomac River. The recently completed, soon to be implemented, multi-billion dollar infrastructure project, the Anacostia River Tunnel, was devised to improve the water quality of this river by diverting sewer effluent and storm water overflow to a wastewater treatment plant. In order to assess the effectiveness of the Tunnel project in terms of water quality improvement, biweekly to monthly sampling will be undertaken, in conjunction with a study already funded by Maryland Sea Grant, which focuses on whether there is a change in the algal community as water quality changes. This project will supplement the planned measurements in the study by focusing on the productivity of silicious diatom communities, those algae that are normally considered favorable for aquatic ecosystems. The funds will allow for the measurement of the changes in dissolved silica and its use by the diatom communities. Through direct measurements and targeted experimentation, in conjunction with this funded project, an improved understanding of the water quality, nutrient cycling, and microbial community health in the Anacostia River will be achieved.

Lauren Jonas (M.S.), University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Columbus Center, “Phosphorus and marine sponges: investigating a key element within the coral reef biogeochemical cycle”, Hawaii.
Marine sponges are abundant filter-feeders in coastal benthic ecosystems and host copious microorganisms. Sponges have emerged as major players within coral reef biogeochemical cycles by facilitating both the intake and release of vital elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. While studies have investigated sponges’ role in transforming dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen into readily bioavailable nutrients for reef fauna, few significant findings have been made regarding their role in phosphorus cycling. This study aims to confirm the presence of phosphorus in the form of polyphosphate within the tissue of five marine sponges from Kāne’ohe Bay in Oʻahu, Hawaii. Sponge sample collection will be combined with experiments examine the mechanisms that control phosphorus cycling within the sponge body. This study of the role of marine sponges and their symbionts in cycling phosphorous will be an important step in understanding the high rates of primary production and respiration found within reef ecosystems. Further, the work will have major implications for filling in the gaps of knowledge of the roles of sponges and their microbiome in the potential release or sequestration of the crucial element, phosphorus.

Adriane Michaelis (Ph.D.), University of Maryland, Anthropology, “Describing cultural ecosystems services associated with oyster aquaculture”, Eastern U.S. coastal states.
Oysters are critical to coastal ecosystem restoration because of the ecosystem services they provide, such as improving water quality, enhancing biodiversity, and reducing the impacts of severe weather events. Within the ecosystem services framework, an approach to valuating the goods provided by an ecosystem, one group of services receives limited attention. Cultural ecosystem services are the nonmaterial goods and benefits provided by a system and are rarely detailed in ecosystem service discussions. In order to simplify and clarify this poorly described concept, I will address cultural services using oyster-based livelihoods. In much of the United States, oyster aquaculture, the farming or growing of oysters, exists alongside or in place of public oyster fisheries, as most wild oyster populations are a small remnant of historic populations. By identifying and describing the social and cultural goods, benefits, and services associated with oyster aquaculture, this project will not only address a void in ecosystem services research, but also evaluate whether oyster aquaculture is able to match the social and cultural goods associated with public fisheries, in order to assess the ability of oyster aquaculture to provide an alternate livelihood in areas of declining public fisheries.

Sylvain Nyandwi (Ph.D.), George Washington University, Anthropology, “Resilience to forest fragmentation in sympatric chimpanzees and golden monkeys in Rwanda: relating fine-scaled measurement of disturbance to behavior and health”, Rwanda.
The role of primates is critical in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and understanding factors that influence species vulnerability to habitat is key to their successful conservation. This study will be conducted in two sympatric primates, golden monkeys and chimpanzees, in two parks in Rwanda. Gishwati National Park (GNP) is highly-fragmented while Nyungwe National Park (NNP) is characterized by primary vegetation with some sections of secondary growth and some edge effects. These species differ in body size, diet, social organization, and locomotor styles, providing an excellent paradigm to investigate how these factors relate to species vulnerability to different levels of landscape disturbance. This study will characterize differing scales of disturbance and habitat quality from remote sensing data and ground transects; collect fecal samples to quantify parasite load and microbiome; collect behavioral data on ranging, grouping patterns and diet; and test how different levels of landscape disturbance relate to these parameters. This study will provide a critical and detailed understanding of how these two species are affected by habitat disturbance and will allow for the development of more informed conservation strategies, which may include the development of corridors between the two parks.

Nanette C. Raczka (Ph.D.), W VA, Biology, “Investigating how climate change will alter microbial stabilization of soil carbon in tropical forests”, Costa Rica.
Soils store more carbon than the atmosphere and vegetation combined. Thus, understanding how stable soil carbon is formed and lost is critical to predicting how soil processes feedback on climate change. Most climate models predict forests all over the globe will experience drought at a greater frequency and severity. For seasonally dry tropical forests, a key understudied ecosystem, these rainfall shifts have the potential to cause soil carbon losses. One critical uncertainty is whether drought will impact the efficiency at which microbes use soil carbon to make new biomass (i.e., carbon use efficiency. Carbon use efficiency is a keystone microbial trait; whereby increases in carbon use efficiency are theorized to lead to increases in stable soil carbon formation. Under drought, this research will test the hypothesis that microbial carbon use efficiency will decrease, and when rainfall returns to these soils, the inherent rewetting pulse of microbial respiration will drive significant soil carbon losses. This sharp decline in soil carbon storage has the potential to shift these carbon sinks to carbon sources. As such, understanding how drought-induced shifts in microbial carbon use efficiency drive the magnitude of soil carbon losses in response to rewetting events is critical in our ability to predict the rate of global change.

Dorian Russell (M.S), American University, Environmental Sciences, “The influence of edge effects on mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata) food resource use and availability in a fragmented forest”, Costa Rica.
This investigation aims to determine whether wild mantled howler monkeys show an edge effect, specifically an aversion to forest zones bordering human activity. Edge effects have been noted in other taxa; for example, many birds show aversion to forest edge and prefer core zones for critical feeding and nesting behaviors. Mantled howler monkey behavior and vegetation diversity will be compared by proximity to forest edge in a fragment surrounded by cattle ranching and pineapple farming. The monkeys will be observed with notation focused on feeding and foraging, including descriptions of the food item (plant part), food species, and maturity (tree circumference). Geographic location will be noted to three-meter accuracy with a handheld GPS device. Vegetation diversity will be surveyed to compare food availability by forest zone. Globally, just 24 percent of tropical forests are intact, and 75 percent of nonhuman primate species are seeing habitat-related population declines. A majority of published ecological studies focus on pristine habitat despite rapid habitat changes; by contrast, this study has conservation implications. If howler monkeys and their preferred foods show an edge effect, we may be underestimating the consequences of habitat fragmentation and area of useable habitat lost.

Elizabeth Tapanes (Ph.D.), George Washington University, “The how and why of diversification and innovation: a study of unusual pelage diversity in a lemur species”, Madagascar.
The genetic mechanisms that drive diversity in observable traits (or, phenotypes) within a species and translate into macro-evolutionary diversity remain poorly understood. Pelage (hair) represents a unique model trait to examine these questions because it is often shaped by natural and/or sexual selection. This project aims to examine the genetic mechanisms and ultimate causes that shape pelage diversity for diademed sifakas in the Tsinjoarivo Classified Forest, Madagascar. Sifakas in Tsinjoarivo exhibit the highest form of pelage variation of any primate species, asides from humans. Samples of hair and cheek swabs will be collected in order to examine multiple potential genetic mechanisms that may lead to phenotypic diversity. Samples will be coupled to hair morphology measurements on color and type for the same individuals. Results may indicate an adaptive function (e.g. thermoregulation) for pelage differences in Tsinjoarivo, while also elucidating underlying genetic changes that produce novel traits. The phenotypic data will be compared to data for the entire sifaka genus, as well as 100+ primate species, to understand the relationship between micro- and macroevolution. Lastly, diademed sifakas are critically endangered. This study has the potential to understand how the species is responding to environmental changes, which can aid conservation priorities.

Josh Wayt (Ph.D.), University of Virginia, Linguistics, “The poetics of Dakota kinship: revitalizing language and reconstituting community at Lake Traverse Reservation”, South Dakota.
This study centers on Dakota people’s efforts to revitalize their heritage language at Lake Traverse Reservation, SD. The relationship between language activism and the broader social dilemmas (e.g. alcoholism, methamphetamine addiction, gang violence, suicide) faced by Dakota people will be examined. Given the existence of such pressing and visceral social problems, questions to be addressed are focus on why the Dakota people so concerned about language revitalization. The hypothesis to be tested is that language activism is fundamentally directed towards redressing such social issues by reconstituting moral relations within the community itself. The main data for testing this hypothesis is the instructional discourse that fluent elders address to linguistic novices. This discourse consistently relates Dakota grammar to principles and protocols for conducting social relationships. Audio-visual recordings of this rhetorically rich instruction will be collected and subsequently analyzed using ethnopoetic methods. At one level, this project will result in a documentary body of a highly endangered Native American language, with special attention to the rhetorical practices that characterize compelling and convincing instruction. At a broader level, this research will contribute to a growing body of ethnographic literature on language revitalization movements by foregrounding the social and cultural motivations that undergird indigenous language activism.

2017 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

2017 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

David S. De La Mater, III (M.S.), Biology Department, The College of William and Mary, “Biogeographic variations in common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) functional and defensive traits, and their effect on monarch (Danaus plexippus) fitness”, Virginia.
Plants play an important role in structuring ecological communities; however, there is insufficient understanding of how infraspecific biogeographic variations in plant traits affect communities through interactions with herbivores. This research lies at the interface of biogeography, plant traits, and herbivore development, and its purpose is to elucidate the ways in which plant traits affect communities through plant-herbivore interactions. We achieve this by focusing on a model plant-herbivore system: common milkweed (Ascelpias syriaca) and the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). We first quantified the variation in milkweed traits across its entire North American range through field sampling and multivariate statistical techniques. Preliminary data show statistically significant differences between populations, and suggests that as latitude increases, plant height, foliar carbon, chlorophyll, lignin, and herbivory seem to decline while cardenolide concentrations seem to increase. Root stock was harvested from each population to create a common garden of milkweed from across its range. In order to determine how observed variations in milkweed traits affect monarchs, a bioassay will be conducted in which monarch larvae will be fed on milkweed from each sampled population. Differences in monarch development and performance will provide insight into how plant trait variation affects herbivores.

S. Augusta Mccracken (Ph.D.), Anthropology Department, University of Maryland, “Ancient latitudinal diversity gradients of insect herbivory: Exploration of the Cerro del Pueblo Formation”, Mexico.
Plants and insects have an extraordinary evolutionary history, which has led to their unprecedented diversity and abundance in modern terrestrial ecosystems. The ability to predict how plant and insect communities respond to anthropogenic climate change is vital to construct appropriate management strategies. One of the best sources of information on how organisms contend with climate change is in the deep geologic past, such as during the Cretaceous, when the Earth was much hotter than today (tropical to sub-tropical). This research project focuses on the biogeography of fossil plant and insect interactions, specifically looking at how these interactions change across latitude during the Late Cretaceous of North America. The object is to understand how this latitudinal diversity gradient compares to that of today so predictions can be made of changes in plant-insect interactions in the coming decades. Museum collections provide tens of thousands of fossil specimens for this research, but the Cerro del Pueblo Formation in Coahuila, Mexico, must be further excavated in order to obtain a sufficient number of specimens for analysis of insect-damaged leaf fossils.

Enquye Wondimu Negash (Ph.D.), Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, George Washington University, “Modelling vegetation structure in modern ecosystems: Implications for hominin landscape dynamics”, Rwanda.
Understanding parameters of vegetation structure, composition and distribution in contemporary ecosystems is crucial for interpreting past ecological conditions. As fossil soils (paleosols) are well-preserved in the fossil record and are commonly used in reconstructing past ecosystems, a detailed study and a comprehensive understanding of modern soils at a high spatial resolution is important in establishing a baseline for interpreting paleosols and their associated vegetation structure. The proposed work uses a multi-proxy approach to calibrate a model of estimating vegetation structure in modern ecosystems to apply the model produced in reconstructing vegetation proportion, distribution and woody cover from paleosols. To do this, phytolith and stable isotopic analysis of soil samples collected from national parks in eastern Africa along varying altitudinal and climatic gradients will be used. This will help better characterize the relationship of each proxy to the vegetation structure in various habitat types and offers a quantitative approach of estimating vegetation structure. The proposed work is part of a project aimed at applying the model produced from this study on paleosols from the Shungura Formation, a hominin bearing fossiliferous site in Southern Ethiopia, which will help in making more precise and accurate interpretations of hominin environments.

Brandon Semel (Ph.D.), Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech, “Advancing Effective Lemur Conservation in the Face of Global Change”, Madagascar.
Primates face an increasing number of threats to their survival (e.g. forest loss, hunting). Despite the mounting threat to countless other taxa, how primates will respond to climate-induced environmental change remains poorly understood. This project will assess the adaptive potential of Madagascar’s critically endangered golden-crowned sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli) in response to anticipated climate change and other proximate threats. Four objectives will be completed to meet this goal: 1) update population estimates and establish a population monitoring program, 2) relate abundance to nutritional properties in different forest types, 3) investigate genetic diversity and adaptive genetic potential across species’ range, and 4) predict land cover change, and relate back to variance in nutritional properties and genetic connectivity, in response to human use and climate change scenarios. Population estimates also will be obtained for endangered crowned (Eulemur coronatus) and Sanford’s brown (E. sanfordi) lemurs in northern Madagascar’s Daraina region. Partnering with Malagasy conservation initiatives will ensure that species monitoring continues long-term and that conservation activities are undertaken that will best promote species persistence in the face of climate change and other threats.