Past Grants

Past Grants

Grants Committee Report

Recommendations for 2016 Awards    Five Awards, $11,062 in total

Laurence Dumouchel, Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, George Washington University, “What the world looked like when we started walking upright: The environments of the earliest Australopithecus”, Kenya, $ 3281 (PhD)

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



Sean Knox, Frostburg State University, Biology, “Migration Chronology of Waterfowl and Associated Wetland Food Production at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Morris County, New Jersey”, $728 (MS)

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

Sean M. Lee, George Washington University, Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, “Trade-offs between social & physical development in wild bonobos (Pan paniscus)”, Republic of Congo, $ 2200 (PhD)


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



Alice Millikin, West Virginia University, School of Natural Resources, “Assessing Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) population health in created isolated wetlands to inform habitat creation”, West Virginia, $ 2000 (PhD)

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


Becca Peixotto, American University, Anthropology, “Exploration and Archeological Survey in the Great Dismal Swamp”, Virginia, $ 2853 (PhD)


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

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

2015 Grant Recipients

Grace Capshaw, University of Maryland, Biology. “Hearing in caves: auditory evolution in cave-adapted lungless salamanders (family Plethodontidae)”, Tennessee, $785.

Animals rely on sensory information to respond to environmental stimuli and to guide behavior. Selective pressures influence sensory evolution to facilitate detection of stimuli within the constraints of the environment; however, the extent of sensory variation in closely related animals that occupy different habitats remains poorly understood. This project will examine the auditory system of plethodontid salamanders living under different sensory constraints, specifically cave salamanders and their surface dwelling relatives. The plethodontid family represents a unique opportunity to study auditory evolution independent of vocal communication because it is species rich, widely distributed, and displays high ecological diversity in habitat use. Comparative analysis of auditory variation in species living under different levels of environmental constraint may reveal the selective pressures that induce sensory adaptation. The proposed work will address questions of sensory variation and adaptation within an ecologically-relevant framework and will generate conclusions pertaining to environmental influence on auditory evolution.

Madeleine Gunter, William and Mary, Anthropology. “Settlement stability and floodplain dynamism: A geoarchaeology study of ‘persistent places’ in the Virginia Piedmont”, Virginia, $1700.

This project combines geological and archaeological methods to examine the long-term settlement histories of Siouan-speaking Native communities in Virginia’s Dan River drainage between AD 800—1600. Invoking Schlanger’s (1992) concept of “persistent places,” locales made meaningful through their occupation and reoccupation through time, this research seeks to understand why Piedmont communities reoccupied floodplain village sites along the Dan and its tributaries—despite environmental and sociopolitical disadvantages (annual flooding, proximity to hostile groups from the North). By extracting and analyzing a series of sediment cores from across the site’s main floodplain, this project seeks to contextualize the site’s various archaeological features–evidence of relatively stable occupation–within the region’s dynamic fluvial history. Though regionally and methodologically focused, this project is significant because it joins a broader conversation about the nature of human/environment interaction that seeks to understand how past humans shaped, and were shaped by, the landscapes on which they lived.

Melanie Jackson, University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science. “Determining the effect of ammonium on algal community composition and physiology in the Anacostia River in Washington DC”, District of Columbia, $2240.

It is well known that that the Anacostia River has poor water quality based on its history of toxins and pathogens; however, nutrient pollution, primarily in the form of nitrogen (N) has been less well recognized. In coastal ecosystems in general, nutrient pollution is known to lead to eutrophication and increased hypoxia and abundance of harmful algal bloom species. Excess N is one of the major pollution problems in the Anacostia River, largely due to sewage effluent and combined sewer overflows from both effluent and storm water runoff. This project aims to assess the sources and fates of N forms in the Anacostia River and their relationship with algal blooms. Anacostia River sampling will be combined with experiments involving enrichments with NH4+ and NO3 to evaluate the impact of N loads and forms on phytoplankton species composition and productivity. Considering the growing number and increasing frequency of harmful algal blooms worldwide, this research has implications for food web structure and productivity of coastal estuaries.

Chrisandra Kufeldt, George Washington University, Human Biology. “Does dental microstructure carry a phylogenetic signal?”, Arizona, Massachusetts, United Kingdom, $2774.

Sound hypotheses about phylogenetic relationships are necessary for understanding the comparative context of the evolutionary changes that have occurred within the hominin lineage. This project will combine a new suite of morphological characters derived from dental microstructure to test the efficacy of hard tissue characters for recovering evolutionary relationships among great apes and monkeys whose phylogeny is well established from genetic evidence. The objective of this study is to conduct a comprehensive study of enamel growth in primate samples in order to produce data to use in a phylogenetic analysis. The study sample suite for this project includes previously collected and sectioned thin sections of mandibular molars from great apes and species of both old world and new world monkeys. . Demonstrating the efficacy of these methods with a new suite of characters in a comparative context is critical for future application to the hominin fossil record, this is important considering paleoanthropology remains one of the few fields without reliable phylogenetic hypotheses


Joeva Rock, American University, Anthropology. “Sankofa: Utilizing traditional agricultural practice for modern development”, Ghana, $3750.

Food and farming are inherently social processes, but changes in agricultural practice in Ghana are changing ecological and cultural landscapes. As a result, Ghanaian farmers are opting out of cash-crop development schemes and instead turning to sustainable subsistence farming that draws on socio-cultural agricultural knowledge. The usefulness of local knowledge is contested. While some argue that it ought to be crucial a component of agricultural development, others disagree over the viability of the use of local knowledge and small-scale farms to meet modern needs. This project explores how Ghanaians define and pursue sustainable, culturally-relevant agricultural practice. Ethnographic research will be conducted in the Ghanaian capital of Accra and based out of the offices of ILK, a Ghanaian agricultural organization. This project employs two core methods: 1) participant observation at ILK to understand how sustainability and cultural values are defined and integrated in to practice, and 2) semi-structured interviews with farmers and with key actors in Ghanaian agricultural policy and programming spheres. By approaching agricultural development beyond production and consumption, and instead establishing food as a cultural cornerstone, this project will aid in designing and maintaining truly sustainable development interventions.

2014 Grant Recipients:

Rebecca Biermann, M.A, George Washington University, Anthropology,

Study title: New Approaches to Understanding Human Behavioral Evolution from Stone Artifacts: Applying Photogrammetry at Olorgesailie, Kenya.

Description: Stone tools constitute the majority of archaeological remains from the Pleistocene and can provide insights into the evolution of humans and their behavior. The goal of much analysis of lithic artifacts is to understand the extent to which both the production of stone tools and their resulting forms were standardized.

Depending on degree of complexity, standardization can indicate social learning, complex imitation and the transmission of social knowledge. Although humans with modern cognitive abilities consistently produce standardized tools in many contexts, the degree of standardization prior to the emergence of Homo sapienshas been questioned, particularly with respect to tools known as scrapers for their relatively steeply-angled smooth edges.

Although standardization is difficult to quantify, new digital and statistical methods for analyzing three-dimensional shape are being developed by this investigator and others. The proposed research will model scrapers from Olorgesailie, Kenya, dating to more than 200,000 years ago, using photogrammetric three-dimensional methodology, and will subsequently analyze them using Fourier analysis, a statistical shape analysis. These techniques will allow us to quantify and analyze shape in a three-dimensional space, and will provide improved insights into the cognitive abilities of our pre-Homo sapiens ancestors.

Lee Bloch, PhD, University of Virginia, Anthropology

The North Florida Mounds Oral History Project: Muskogee (Creek) Perspectives on Ancestral Landscapes

Mound building in North Florida represents an ancient Native American tradition, reaching its greatest material intensity at the Mississippian period Lake Jackson site (1100-1500 CE). Members of a descendant Muskogee (Creek) community local to the area regularly visit and even follow archaeological research on these ancestral places, which are an important part of their heritage.

Over the summer of 2014, I will document and analyze the community’s oral histories about these mound landscapes. This study is a step in my doctoral research, which applies collaborative archaeological and ethnographic methods to the investigation of Muskogee relationships to and interpretations of ancestral material culture and landscapes.

In addition to documentation, my summer research will identify underlying structures embedded in Muskogee oral histories such as generic and symbolic conventions, social contexts, and notions of temporality. Studying these elements on their own terms will enable me to integrate Indigenous knowledge and archaeological research without reducing the cultural differences between these two ways of knowing the past. This research refines archaeological models of ancient Native peoples and contributes to the emergent fields of collaborative archaeologies that rethink archaeological theory and practice by involving Native communities, cultural knowledge, and oral traditions.

Huan Cui, PhD, University of Maryland, Geology, $3500

Searching for Early Animal Skeletons and Reconstructing the Biogeochemical Fuse to the Cambrian Explosion from the Ediacaran Dengying Formation, South China

The sudden diversification of animal life in the Cambrian Explosion around 530 million years ago is arguably one of the most important biological watersheds in Earth’s long history. The driving mechanisms that lead to the evolutionary big bang, however, are still incompletely understood. One thrust of my research in Geobiology is in understanding the fossil record and possible environmental drivers for this biological revolution.

The field site I want to investigate is a rock unit called Dengying Formation in Three Gorges Area of South China. Previous study reveals that this rock unit was deposited between 551 and 541 million years ago, in the dawn of the animal life Cambrian Explosion. Numerous fossils have been discovered in this rock unit, representing the earliest group of animals with skeletons evolved in Earth history.

With the goal of a better understanding of early animal evolution, I plan to conduct field investigation with my advisor and colleagues. During the field trip, I will systematically collect rock samples in high resolution for further paleontological and geochemical analysis in University of Maryland and Virginia Tech.

Scott Martin, MS, Towson University, Biology

Response of an Ecosystem Engineer to large-scale Dune Construction: Implication for Coastal Wildlife

Due to climate change an increase in the intensity of coastal storms and sea level rise puts both human developments and coastal habitat at risk. In areas where coastal retreat threatens human developments sea walls are commonly used as a mitigation method. High rates of coastal erosion in front of these structures are noted.  The loss of sandy beaches is a major management problem; alternative techniques may protect human interests and biodiversity. One method is construction of dunes to prevent over wash of coastal habitat, but the effects of these dunes on coastal wildlife needs more research.

Following Hurricane Sandy, NASA began constructing a large dune to protect the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). KSC is a biodiversity hotspot in the United States and has large colonies of gopher tortoises, a state threatened species, in coastal habitat. Gopher tortoises are ecosystem engineers; their burrows are used by over 300 commensal species. My study proposes to monitor the recolonization of the constructed dune and an older pilot dune to see how tortoises use the dunes. If colonization is rapid, and gopher tortoises form resident colonies, such methods may protect human interests and biodiversity along coastlines in the American Southeast.

Christopher Shephard, PhD, College of William and Mary, Anthropology

The Materiality of Politics: Tracking Movement, Meaning, and Mollusks in the Algonquian Southern Middle Atlantic (A.D. 900-1680)

Recent scholarship on the pre-Columbian exchange of “wealth” objects in the Middle Atlantic has emphasized the role of copper (and its circulation) in producing the Native chiefly political economies that mark Late Woodland and Contact Periods (A.D. 900 – 1680). Much less, however, has been written about shell beads that are not only more abundant in the region’s archaeological record, but are often found in association with copper in various ceremonial contexts. The exchange of these objects as gifts at public events created social obligations and bound individuals and societies into repetitive cycles of exchange. Through the use of Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS), this study seeks to: 1) identify potential shell bead production zones throughout the Chesapeake region, and 2) assess evidence of trade between coastal societies and those who resided in western portions of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. A relatively new technique, ICP-MS offers a means of analyzing the elemental constitution of shell objects and potentially linking them to the unique watershed within which they originated. The overall goal of the study is to expose a previously unknown craft industry within the region and assess the exchange networks that were created as a result.

2013 Grant Recipients

This list of 2013 ECWG Exploration and Field Research Grants for graduate students includes each awardee’s name, the university he or she is attending, the academic discipline, the research topic, and the location where the research will be conducted.

Andrew Du, George Washington University, “The Tana River ecosystem as a modern analogue for ancient Hominin habitats”, Kenya

Kristin Fisher, University of Maryland, College Park, environmental science and technology, “Ureolytic microbial community composition in Maryland soils:  a missing link in understanding landscape”, Maryland

Elizabeth Flood, University of Virginia, music, “On being country: the culture of musical practice in Asheville, North Carolina”, North Carolina

Sean Furmage, American University, anthropology, “Conservation and community: a visual ethnography of elephant conservation, pastoralism and nonhuman encounter in Samburu, Kenya”, Kenya

Lisa Kuder, Hood College, “Native wildflower effects on insect-mediated pollination of soybeans”, Maryland

Jason O’Bryhim, George Mason University, environmental science and policy, “Combining genetic and sociological techniques to evaluate the status of shark populations in Costa Rica”, Costa Rica

Karen Odem, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, biological sciences, “Why duet? Exploring the function of female songs and duets in a tropical songbird”, Puerto Rico

Rebecca Whalen, Georgetown University, Biology, “Assessing the role of habitat edge effects on salt marsh community and food web interactions”, New Jersey

Chris Yakymchuk, University of Maryland, “Polyphase Orogenesis and Crustal Differentiation in West Antarctica”, Washington

2012 Grant Recipients

Julie Charbonnier, Virginia Commonwealth University, “Effects of climate change on amphibians across life stages in Doñana National Park”, Spain

Ana Jesovnik, University of Maryland, College Park, entomology, “Digging deep in Brazil- natural history and evolution of the fungus-growing ant genus Sericomyrmex, Brazil

Carly F. Krause, University of Virginia, engineering and environmental Sciences, “Assessment of copper nitrate and copper nanoparticle ceramic water filters for water purification in Limpopo Province, South Africa”, South Africa

Joowon Park, American University, anthropology, “Class, ethnicity and malnutrition of North Korean defectors in South Korea”, South Korea

Kathryn Ranhorn, George Washington University, anthropology, “Exploring the archaeological context of early Homo sapiens in southeastern Tanzania”, Tanzania

Lists of grants recipients