Category: Grants Awarded

2024 ECWG Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

2024 ECWG Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

Mary Efird (Ph.D.), University of Maryland College Park, Anthropology, Isotopic Analysis of Icelandic Cod Atlases: Tracing Trophic Changes Over a Millennium, Iceland. 

As climate change intensifies and human exploitation of fish stocks escalates, there is an urgent need to monitor the state of global fisheries. Both climate change and human activities can disrupt marine ecosystems by altering trophic webs, intricate networks of predation and energy transfer among organisms. Trophic web alterations can lead to biodiversity loss and ecosystem instability. Despite this, deep-time trophic changes in Iceland’s Atlantic cod population remain poorly understood. This dissertation seeks to address this research gap by employing zooarchaeological methods. However, to contextualize archaeological findings, understanding the trophic life histories of modern Atlantic cod is crucial. Samples of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) atlas vertebrae will be collected from four fish processing plants across Iceland. These modern specimens will serve as analogs for previously collected archaeological vertebrae, forming the basis for carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis. Through comparing stable isotope signatures of modern and archaeological vertebrae spanning Iceland’s history, this study aims to elucidate historical shifts in the marine trophic webs of Iceland. The deep-time insights provided by this research can mitigate the common fisheries issue of shifting baseline syndrome and inform more effective fisheries management strategies for Iceland’s Atlantic cod fishery, which holds considerable socioeconomic and ecological significance.


Abdulwahab Omokolade Omigbule (Ph.D.), University of Virginia, Anthropology, The Bonny Island – Old Calabar Archaeological Project, Nigeria. 

The transatlantic economy has been extensively researched since the mid-20th century, with archaeologists contributing significantly on both sides of the Atlantic basin. While West African archaeologists have extensively explored the Senegambian region and the Bight of Benin, the Bight of Bonny has received little attention despite its centrality to transatlantic history. Old Calabar and Bonny Island served as crucial points in the transatlantic slave trade, facilitating complex African-European interactions and accounting for a substantial portion of enslaved captives transported through the region. Their geographical proximity to the Atlantic, access to trading posts via the Niger Delta, and unique political-economic structures positioned these ports strategically within the regional economy. This doctoral research focuses on daily life and material histories during the transatlantic and post-abolition periods in the Niger Delta area of the Bight of Bonny, Nigeria. By examining the lives of African traders and local inhabitants at Bonny Island and Old Calabar, this study aims to elucidate the global experiences and contributions of West Africans from the 17th to 19th centuries CE. Previous historical archaeological endeavors in West Africa have primarily emphasized the European perspective, making this interdisciplinary project vital in highlighting the role and agency of African elites and non-elites in shaping the modern world, particularly in Nigeria.


Robert Salerno (M.S.), University of Maryland College Park, Entomology, Soil Arthropod Diversity and Ecosystem Services in Response to Ecological Intensification of Agricultural Cropping Systems, Clarksville, Maryland. 

Modern agricultural practices, such as intensive soil tillage, crop monocultures, and overfertilization pose sustainability challenges in forage and livestock farming, impacting soil quality and ecosystem stability. Throughout the world, studies have revealed that agricultural intensification has imposed negative consequences on aboveground arthropods, prompting interest in ecologically intensified forage systems for agricultural sustainability. Belowground, soil arthropods provide many essential ecosystem services on the farm, including decomposition, biological control, and bioturbation however, these organisms are usually overlooked. Understanding their response to ecological intensification is vital for sustainable agriculture. Therefore, this project aims to assess how different land use types in forage cropping systems influence soil arthropod biodiversity, their ecosystem services, and soil quality. Sampling across various treatments using subterranean pitfall traps will provide insights into soil arthropod biodiversity and its connection to soil properties and land use type. This research aligns with broader efforts aiming to transform the agricultural landscape dominated by conventional monocultures into a landscape possessing ecologically intensified perennial forage systems. By bridging knowledge gaps, this project seeks to promote ecologically intensified forage systems, benefiting farmers and fostering agricultural resilience while also exploring soil arthropod biodiversity, a group of organisms vital to agriculture but usually overlooked.


Ronita Sequeira (M.S.), University of Maryland Baltimore County-IMET, Marine, Estuarine and Environmental Sciences, Measuring the Abundance, Diet and Condition of Piscifauna Near Restoration Projects in an Urban Estuary, Baltimore, Maryland. 

The proposed study explores the impact of shoreline and floating wetland resiliency projects on fish ecology in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Middle Branch areas. Although wetlands are known to have many ecological benefits, it is relatively unknown how beneficial they are in urban estuaries. This study aims to address this knowledge gap by quantifying fish abundance and conditions adjacent to restoration efforts and evaluating habitat restoration’s influence on juvenile fish diversity. Focusing on mummichogs and silversides, the research will assess abundance, condition, and potential diet variations near restoration sites compared to reference areas, including stands of Phragmites australis. By conducting statistical analyses and collecting biological specimens, the study will provide insights into the interaction between habitat restoration projects and fish communities in urban estuarine environments. Anticipated results of this exploration include identifying correlations between fish abundance, condition, and restoration efforts, crucial for guiding future restoration initiatives and supporting sustainable fish populations. Moreover, the study will establish a baseline for future research on fish diet, biodiversity, and mercury content, while also fostering outreach activities to engage youth and collaborate with relevant stakeholders and organizations invested in estuarine conservation and restoration.


Matthew Stefanak (Ph.D.), University of Maryland-UMCES, Marine, Estuarine and Environmental Sciences, Exploring the Offshore Estuary: Applying Stable Isotopes to Understand Fish Trophic Dynamics in the Chesapeake Bay Plume, Chesapeake Bay and Solomons, Maryland. 

The Chesapeake Bay offshore estuary is an important transitional zone that transports large amounts of nutrients and organic matter from the estuary onto the continental shelf. These “plume” zones have been shown to be areas of enhanced biological activity, yet the magnitude and mechanisms by which the Bay plume influences fishery production in the adjacent inner continental shelf ecosystem is poorly understood. In this project, my objectives are to use measurements of carbon and nitrogen stable isotope composition of basal resources, benthic invertebrates, and several juvenile fish species to 1) characterize the primary sources of production in the plume system (i.e., marine, autochthonous, and (or) estuarine), and 2) estimate the relative contribution of these various energy sources to higher trophic level productivity. Sampling will occur during June 2024 to build on previous collections from April/September 2023 at multiple stations across an inshore-offshore gradient within the plume using a variety of gears. All prepared samples will be analyzed for δ13C and δ15N signatures using a continuous flow isotope ratio mass spectrometer coupled with an elemental analyzer. Findings from this study will elucidate the spatiotemporal role of the Chesapeake Bay plume as a structuring agent of the nearshore food web and its higher trophic level dynamics.

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.

2021 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

2021 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

Tomos Llywelyn Evans, (Ph.D.), The College of William and Mary, Anthropology, “Uncovering an earthen giant: Sungbo’s Eredo and the socio-political dynamics of Ijebu”, Nigeria
The proposed project will consist of a three-month archaeological field season aimed at developing scientific knowledge of what is thought to be Africa’s largest single monument: the massive, but little understood, 100-mile-long early earthwork system of Sungbo’s Eredo that extends through the forests of southern Nigeria. Fieldwork will be undertaken in order to obtain a variety of scientific data (chronological, material cultural, and stratigraphic) that will help answer key questions about the historical socio-political significance of this massive but still enigmatic monument. These pertain to the chronology of the earthwork’s construction and use, the organization of the earthwork’s construction, and the functions and meanings of the earthwork to the local Ijebu people who generated it and lived in its vicinity. These considerations will offer insights into larger debates about the nature of power and the state in the social sciences, and the ways in which socio-political institutions may generate monumental architecture and vice versa. The project also seeks to contribute to building awareness of this incredible monument, with the hope that this will support ongoing conservation efforts and stimulate sustainable forms of tourism that will generate revenue for local communities.

Edward Andrew Hobbs, Jr., (Ph.D.), University Maryland-UMCES, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, “Ecological and environmental impacts of nutrient loading and sea level rise on methane in a Chesapeake Bay tributary”, Maryland
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas (~25 times greater than carbon dioxide) that is naturally produced in sediments of coastal ecosystems. When methane production exceeds that of consumption, it can build up and be released to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Natural aquatic systems are estimated to account for as much as 7-30% of global methane emissions, and can be impacted by anthropogenic nutrient inputs and sea level rise. Where nutrient inputs are large and lead to seasonal oxygen depletion, such as in Chesapeake Bay, there is an even greater chance for methane to enter the atmosphere. One of the main sinks for methane is anaerobic methane oxidation (AMO), but it is unknown how nutrient inputs and sea level rise affect AMO and overall methane consumption in coastal ecosystems. Quantifying the amount of methane consumed by AMO is essential for estimating methane emissions to the atmosphere. The goal of this research is to directly measure and derive rates of AMO within a representative Chesapeake Bay tributary impacted by nutrient loads and sea level rise. The information gained from this project will significantly broaden our understanding of the degree to which these factors affect methane emissions from coastal ecosystems.

Calvin So, (Ph.D.), University of Maryland, Biology, “A search for fossil caecilians in the Newark Supergroup”, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia
Caecilians are a group of elongate, limbless, tropical, and burrowing amphibians with enigmatic evolutionary origins, and one of three living groups of amphibians next to frogs and salamanders. Currently, the morphological evolution of the caecilian body plan is obscured by a paucity of fossil caecilians, resulting in a poor understanding of how caecilians evolved a reinforced skull and an elongated body. With the available record, key morphological and evolutionary events can be inferred to occur in the temporal gap between the evolution of Late Triassic caecilian Chinlestegophis and Early Jurassic caecilian Eocaecilia. To better understand the morphological evolution of caecilians, fossils must be found to fill in the anatomical gap. The Late Triassic outcrops of the Newark Supergroup fulfill the conditions where fossil caecilians are expected; they are within the temporal gap, formerly tropical, and have previously yielded fossils of amphibian relatives. Through phylogenetic analyses, a better understanding of the relationships of caecilians and their extinct relatives can be developed. Prospecting the Newark Supergroup is a well-supported investigation for potential fossil caecilians

Nicole Trenholm, (Ph.D.), University Maryland-UMCES, Horn Point Laboratory, “Field and Satellite Observations of Deglaciated Coastline Water Quality”, Greenland
Increasing glacial meltwater contributions to the Arctic Ocean call for the development of
long-term monitoring approaches of coastal meltwater plumes. Current satellites are limited in the detection of seasonal glacial meltwater conditions. Greenland’s coastline bears nutrient-rich sediment-laden streams that discharge freshwater into the sea. This discharge influences coastal primary productivity, leading to algal blooms and carbon sequestration. The current understanding of the delivery and composition of meltwater to fjord ecosystems is limited by a lack of field studies connecting the ground biogeochemical processes to satellite data. This project will address this gap in knowledge through the use of specialized field sampling methods. This project will advance the understanding of how Greenland’s ongoing deglaciation controls the water quality of the coastal marine ecosystem. The investigation will focus on the nutrient export flux at the land-sea interface of a deglaciated landscape at Sermilik Station on the east coast of Greenland. With Mittivakkat Glacier overhead, the coastal water quality conditions influenced by land-retreated glacier meltwater discharge will be defined. These observations will aid as the foundation for a widespread deglaciated coastline water quality survey next summer along Greenland’s largest turbid meltwater plume.

Anna Windle, (Ph.D.), University Maryland-UMCES, Horn Point Laboratory, “Underwater Structure from Motion photogrammetry: A remote, rapid, and nondestructive method to monitor restored oyster reefs”, Maryland
Eastern oysters, native to Chesapeake Bay, provide critical ecosystem services to the Bay ecosystem. Due to historic over-harvesting, disease, and habitat loss, populations have drastically declined. Recognizing the importance of restoring native populations, the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement included a goal to sustain shellfish populations by restoring oyster habitat in ten Chesapeake Bay tributaries by 2025. Today, an estimated 788 acres of oyster reef habitat have been restored in the five Maryland tributaries. Reefs are assessed every three and six years following restoration. These efforts use labor intensive methods that are limited by weather and water conditions, are destructive to the reef, and are expensive. Remote, rapid, and nondestructive methodologies to assess oyster reef metrics have significant potential to increase the efficiency of oyster restoration monitoring. This project aims to explore the emerging technology of underwater Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry to assess the potential of large-scale oyster reef monitoring. Underwater imagery will be collected, processed through a color reconstruction algorithm to remove the effect of turbid water, and applied in SfM software to create high resolution 3D models. This proof-of-concept research has the potential to not only enhance oyster reef monitoring techniques, but also transform underwater datasets in Chesapeake Bay.

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.