2022 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

2022 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

Melissa Collier, (Ph.D.), Georgetown University, Biology, “The impact of social behavior on disease dynamics in the bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) of the Chesapeake Bay”, Virginia, District of Columbia.

Animal social behavior affects infectious disease dynamics in wildlife populations which can have detrimental ecosystem effects, such as declining wildlife populations and even extinctions. With the recent increase in marine related disease reports, there is a need for evaluating the impact of behavior on infectious disease spread in marine species. However, social behavior is not homogenous across demographic groups; there is variation in disease spreading behaviors across age and sex classes that can affect which individuals are most at risk for contracting disease in certain populations. This project will evaluate how differences in social behavior among demographic groups affect the vulnerability of individual bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) to infectious disease by collecting behavioral data on the dolphins of the Chesapeake Bay. This work will help to explain how unique dolphin behavior contributed to a recent epizootic that killed more than 1,600 bottlenose dolphins, depleting mid-Atlantic coastal populations of bottlenose dolphins. The vulnerability of a marine sentinel species to disease will be assessed and a forecast the demographics most at risk for future outbreaks will be made. This is essential for modeling the population dynamics of this vulnerable species.

Claudia Escue, (Ph.D.), The College of William and Mary, Anthropology, “Sustainable and Resilient Taro Farming in Rurutu, French Polynesia: A Multi-methodological Approach”, French Polynesia.

This project investigates the extent to which environmental factors and social factors resulted in the adoption or continued use of resilient farming methods in marginal communities. Research will be conducted on Rurutu (Austral Islands, French Polynesia), one of the last remaining Polynesian islands where traditional taro farming is practiced. Rurutu is an ideal location for research on traditional farming as the island’s terraces have likely been continuously cultivated for a 1,000-year sequence. This research consists of a multiphase project integrating geospatial analysis of Rurutu’s taro terraces with soil nutrient profiles and data on contemporary farming methods. Preliminary GIS data suggests that intra-island differences in productive capacity and population distribution are linked to environmental conditions. Ethnoarchaeological research will expand on such geospatial analysis by exploring the maintenance of traditional farming practices, when, where, and why land tenure and water rights issues arise, and how sustainable practices are maintained during shifts from subsistence to commercial farming. Finally, soil nutrient profiles of traditionally and commercially farmed plots will be examined to explore how farmers adapt to climate fluctuations, resource pressures, and population shifts and how such practices can inform contemporary decisions regarding sustainable, resilient agriculture and global efforts towards food sovereignty.

Jennifer Kane, (Ph.D.), West Virginia University, Plant and Soil Science, “Exploring the ground above the ground: canopy soil biodiversity and nutrient cycling in an old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest”, Washington.

Old-growth forests, which contain the world’s largest and oldest trees, are experiencing global decline. As trees are physically removed (e.g., during logging) or experience increased mortality rates (e.g., due to environmental stress), other plants and animals lose a critical source of shelter and food. Hence, the decline of these trees likely has cascading impacts on ecosystem-wide biodiversity. Much of this endangered biodiversity dwells in the canopy of these forests, as branches have become home to a diverse assemblage of plants, animals, and microbes. Abundant life in the canopy has resulted in the accumulation of soil as plant and animal biomass senesces and decomposes. These soils serve as an important source of nutrients for trees and epiphytes; yet little is known about nutrient cycling in these suspended canopy soils. One persisting knowledge gap is how soil organisms (invertebrates, bacteria, fungi) and their interactions influence these nutrient cycles. This project will be conducted in the suspended canopy soils in Olympic National Park with a focus on the structure, function, and interactions of soil organisms. These measurements will further the understanding of how the decline of old growth forests will impact biodiversity and nutrient cycling.

Diogo Viegas de Oliveira, (Ph.D.), The College of William and Mary, Anthropology, “Mozambique Island   in the Iron Age”, Mozambique.

This project brings together multiple lines of data in order to holistically approach archaeology and history in this region of the world. Although part of the Swahili coast, Northern Mozambique has received far less scholarly attention compared to other East African countries. Research will address these gaps by engaging in an interdisciplinary approach to archaeology in Northern Mozambique. This will include employing various methodologies across various disciplines, including archaeology, history, and anthropology. Archaeological and historical research, especially in northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania, is beginning to demonstrate the diversity of lifeways between Swahili coast sites. This project hopes to build on this work and create a cohesive chronology that addresses important cultural differences and transformations between the Southern and Northern sections of East Africa in the later Iron Age and Early Colonial era. The plan is to work with local scholars and archaeologists based at Mozambican universities and institutions to create a new registry of cultural heritage that is representative of Northern Mozambique’s long, unique history from the Later Stone Age to the Colonial Era. Additionally, by finding and mapping these sites around Mozambique Island, one can better assess cultural preservation strategies in Northern Mozambique as climate change will continue to intensify weather patterns and leave cultural heritage at higher levels of risk.

Elad Shdaimah, (M.S.), University of Maryland, Environmental Science and Technology, “Evaluating the impact of invasive vines on nutrient cycling in forest patches in Baltimore, MD”, Maryland.

Urban forests provide important environmental benefits and improve the well-being of city residents. However, invasive species may significantly alter urban forests’ structure and ability to provide these benefits. This study will explore how invasive vines impact the ability of urban forests in Baltimore, MD to cycle and retain carbon and nitrogen. Generally, invasive vines are understood to reduce native plant cover and diversity, altering nutrient cycling and other ecosystem services. Nutrient cycling is a valuable service provided by forests, but the influence of invasive vines on it is variable and poorly understood. Studying invasive vines on the species and local level is necessary for proper management. Field observations and soil samples will be used to test how degree of invasion impacts carbon and nitrogen cycling in forest patches along cover gradients of two invasive vines Hedera helix (English Ivy) and Ampelopsis glandules var. brevipedunculata (Porcelain Berry), two dominant invasive plants in Baltimore. Methods will include soil characterizations (i.e., temperature, pH), soil nutrient analyses (i.e., mineralization, respiration), and litter cover analyses (i.e., depth). The results will increase understanding of urban forest ecology and inform management of Baltimore’s forest patches by highlighting the impacts of invasive vine cover on ecosystem processes.

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