Category: Grants Awarded

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.

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.