Two UD professors assess habitat degradation in wake of Hurricane Sandy

December 4, 2013 under CANR News

Greg Shriver conducts research on habitat degradation due to Hurricane SandyUniversity of Delaware researchers Greg Shriver and Chris Williams have been awarded funds from a $162 million U.S. Department of the Interior project that will be invested in 45 restoration and research projects to better protect Atlantic Coast communities from future powerful storms by restoring marshes, wetlands and beaches, rebuilding shorelines, and researching the impacts and modeling mitigation of storm surge impacts.

Shriver and Williams will begin multiple projects to assess habitat degradation and restoration efforts with a focus on tidal marsh birds such as Nelson’s and saltmarsh sparrows, the American black duck and the Atlantic brant.

Shriver, associate professor and assistant chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology (ENWC), and Williams, associate professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, were awarded funding in large part because of work that occurred before Hurricane Sandy and the amount of pre-storm data that they collected.

“We were both well positioned,” said Shriver. “The challenge with determining the effects of disturbances is having the pre-disturbance data; Chris and I both have that so we can go back to the same place after the disturbance and assess the effects.”

SHARP continued

Shriver’s work will build off of the pre-Sandy work that he is conducting as part of the Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Project (SHARP) research. SHARP aims to provide the information necessary for all states in the bird conservation region stretching from coastal New England through the Mid-Atlantic to protect regionally important habitats for tidal marsh birds.

Of particular interest is the saltmarsh sparrow, which is listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and has a limited breeding range from Virginia to Maine.

“The SHARP surveys are conducted at over 1,700 locations from Virginia to Maine where we are sample breeding tidal marsh bird populations and vegetation communities so we have a nice extensive survey that goes all the way through the hurricane impact zone, from the most intense area all the way to Virginia and Maine,” said Shriver.

Another goal of the project is to provide a regionally consistent platform for tidal marsh bird monitoring in the face of anticipated sea-level rise and upland/watershed development to produce population estimates for all bird species found in the high tidal marsh — including a global population estimate for saltmarsh sparrow — and identify regional population centers.

Shriver said the research team has two years of pre-hurricane data from 2011-12, and explained that this project will last until 2016 with a big part aimed at assessing the effects of Hurricane Sandy restoration projects. “A lot of them will be happening on places we already surveyed, and we will survey new sites that are identified as tidal marshes that are going to be restored. We will complete pre- and post-restoration sampling so that, as we get into 2015-16, the focus will be on the ‘before and after’ restoration sites.”

Black duck, Atlantic brant

Atlantic brant flockWilliams’ research focuses on the American black duck, which has been a bird of priority concern in the Atlantic flyway and the Mid-Atlantic, as well as the Atlantic brant, which is a small goose.

Explaining that he has been working with Southern Illinois University and the state governments of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia, Williams said that his research has many facets. “We monitor the populations of these two species, how they’re using the habitat, how productive the habitat is in the way of feeding,” he said. “All of this work has been going toward the greater goal of assessing the potential on the landscape at a very large macro scale over a long period of time for the populations of black duck and Atlantic brant.”

Williams said his research is looking at the initial impact of habitat loss and the secondary effects, such as loss of food supplies and the impact that might have on population. “For the black duck, we can come in a year later and we can measure how much habitat there is, and whether the food has responded or not, and we can do that at all of these sites that we previously measured,” said Williams.

The research is a little bit more complicated for the brant. Williams explained that the brant mainly eat sea lettuce, algae and eelgrass, and it is likely those food supplies were severely impacted by the hurricane.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is better map and predict where those foods are on the landscape,” said Williams. “If the models we have created work well using remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS), we can apply them to a series of aerial photographs that were taken pre- and post-Sandy. The goal is a really nice pre- and post-storm scenario to evaluate the effect that a destructive storm can have on the brant food supply.”

Williams said the researchers are both just happy that they can be of service to those communities impacted by the hurricane in any way possible. “From an academic standpoint, we’re lucky that we can help,” said Williams. “While we can only minimally help with the human component, we have a well developed program at UD to provide assessment of the ecological and wildlife community and provide recommendations for future landscape planning.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley and courtesy of Chris Williams

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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UD students, professors make global connections in Brazil

October 2, 2013 under CANR News

UD students travel to UFLAFour University of Delaware students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) spent time this summer interning in Brazil at the University of Lavras (UFLA), immersing themselves in the Brazilian culture and taking part in experiential learning with the hope of establishing connections for future collaborations with the institution.

The students were able to study in Brazil thanks to funds provided by a three-year, $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and International Science and Education program awarded to CANR and the College of Arts and Sciences in 2011.

The students who went on the trip were Jacqueline Hoban, a junior studying wildlife conservation and entomology, and recent UD graduates Melanie Allen, who studied wildlife conservation, Sara Laskowski, ecology, and Sarah Thorne, animal science.

Laskowski said that in addition to learning about the research underway at UFLA and networking to globalize UD, the students were fully immersed in the culture as they all lived with Brazilian doctoral or undergraduate students and tried their best to speak Portuguese.

Laskowski, who stayed in Brazil for two months, said that her favorite part of the experience was “the people I met. I made really great friends who I hope to stay in contact with for a long time. I hope to go back and I’m looking into possibly getting a master’s degree in the Amazon region. I love it.”

She also said that she enjoyed sitting in on various classes, talking with professors, seeing new species of birds and insects, and learning about new plants on a day-to-day basis.

Laskowski said that traveling and studying abroad “gives you a new perspective on life. UD has a lot of great opportunities through the study abroad program, which gives students an opportunity to step outside of their roles and really see how other people live.”

Hoban explained that the interns had worked for a year before heading to Brazil to help build longstanding academic programs and research partnerships with UFLA that will enhance the international nature of curricula in areas of common interest, such as food security, bioenergy, animal agriculture and biodiversity.

“Most of my classes were plant based and I worked with plant pathologists and learned a lot about coffee, because that’s their big crop,” Hoban said. She also studied how her Brazilian colleagues “deal with different pathogens and how we would deal with any pathogens that would come from Brazil, or have come from Brazil, to the United States.”

Hoban said that she enjoyed traveling to Rio de Janeiro and exploring UFLA’s new coffee science department.

Having been on study abroad trips to Cambodia and Vietnam before heading to Brazil, Hoban explained that traveling and studying abroad “makes you realize how big the world really is and how different it is. When you read about another country, you’re not really getting a full view of their perspective. Seeing how Brazilians feel about Brazil, how Brazilians feels about the United States, it broadens your mind.”

Professorial experience

The students were also supervised by a faculty team that included Sue Barton, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a Cooperative Extension specialist; Carl Schmidt, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and associate professor of biological sciences; Greg Shriver, associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology; and Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor in Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Barton traveled to Brazil for five days, and explained that she went for a number of reasons, among them to touch base with the UD students and provide them with the opportunity to do things like travel to Inhotim, a 5,000-acre botanic garden and contemporary art museum located two hours from the city Belo Horizonte.

As a professor who teaches plants and human culture, Barton also spent time with an ornamental horticulture professor from UFLA, driving around and looking at the typical city landscape in Brazil. Most of the plots in the city had very little room to landscape or walls that hid their interiors for security purposes, and because of this, people were not able to landscape the area in front of their homes. Barton was able to see a gated community, however, that eliminated the security issue with the gate at the entrance and that looked relatively similar to a high end American urban or suburban development.

Barton was also able to meet with forestry officials who showed her a number of urban forestry projects. “They’re very advanced in the way they’re using computers — like tablets — to collect data and they’re trying to completely catalogue all the trees in Belo Horizonte, which is a city about two hours away from Lavras,” said Barton.

She explained that the officials are gathering data on each tree and the possible problems that trees face in an urban environment — such as wires near the trees — and that they are hoping “to get a handle on the full range of the trees in the city and then continue to track that over time.”

Schmidt went to Brazil to support the students and to conduct research as part of a $4.7 million National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) climate change grant for a project titled “Adapting Chicken Production to Climate Change Through Breeding.” The project looks at identifying genes that help chickens survive on different diets, in different climates and facing different disease challenges.

Having already sampled birds in Uganda, Schmidt said that it was very beneficial to be able to get genetic samples from birds in Brazil, as well.

“I’m very interested in pursuing worldwide genetic diversity in chickens because they’re in all sorts of different environments — they’re pretty much anywhere you find people,” said Schmidt.

Aiding Schmidt in his research work were Janet DeMena, a research associate in CANR, and Allison Rogers, a master’s degree student in CANR.

When it came time to head to campus and help the students, Schmidt quickly realized that the students were very self-motivated. He was, however, more than happy to accompany them on their trip to Rio de Janeiro.

“The people at UFLA were great and we were working pretty hard the whole time we were there, but I have to admit, it was nice to have a break in Rio,” said Schmidt.

Having been to UFLA during spring break, Schmidt had already set up connections with faculty at the institution in anticipation of this trip, and he will now have two Brazilian graduate students from the university travel to UD to spend a year here starting this month.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD doctoral candidate conducts wood thrush studies around Newark

May 8, 2013 under CANR News

The University of Delaware’s Zach Ladin has been studying the wood thrush for the past three years — continuing research started by Roland Roth 37 years ago and continued by Greg Shriver, associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, in his Forest Fragments in Managed Ecosystems (FRAME) program – and is looking at how breeding birds can provide clues to the relative health of the environment.

“We use birds as environmental indicators,” said Ladin, a doctoral candidate in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “When you go to the doctor, they take different measurements, like blood pressure. By itself, your blood pressure may not mean anything but it gives the doctor insight into whether you’re going to have a heart attack soon or whether you’re suffering from some sort of heart disease, or any number of diseases that might be associated with that. So we’re using birds as a window into the health of the forest.”

To do that, Ladin has expanded the territory of the study originated by Roth.

While Roth’s initial study focused solely on the ecology woods located east of Delaware Stadium, Ladin’s study has spread out all over the city of Newark. Using 21 sites around Newark, Ladin looks at how the birds respond to human impacts in an urban landscape, using areas like Iron Hill, the Newark reservoir and White Clay Creek, among others.

Ladin said that Newark is the “ideal place to study urbanization since we’re right in this Mid-Atlantic region. We’re interested in how these birds are responding to an urban landscape.”

Zach Ladin studies wood thrush in UD's ecology woodsSome sites, like Iron Hill, are doing very well when it comes to having large populations of wood thrush, while other sites, such as the small patch of woods across from the hotel at the intersection of Routes 4 and 896, are completely devoid of wood thrush.

Just because a site has a large number of the birds does not necessarily mean that it is a healthy habitat, however. It could simply mean that the wood thrush are “getting pushed out of all the very high quality spots,” said Ladin. “Maybe they were pushed out of White Clay Creek or Iron Hill and this is a last resort for them, so you end up seeing the refugees getting shoved into a very small and isolated spot. It could be a bad sign.”

Ladin explained he trains crews of students that try to locate wood thrush nests, doing so by listening for audible cues, such as when the birds make an alarm call when the researchers get too close to their nests. Once they find the nests, they input the GPS coordinates and monitor the nest every three or four days.

“We keep close track of the eggs,” said Ladin, explaining that sometimes crew members will find eggs from a different species in the wood thrush’s nest. “There’s actually another type of bird called the brown-headed cowbird that will lay its eggs in other species’ nests. It’s called brood parasitism where they’ve evolved a really clever technique. They don’t raise their own chicks, they just go around and lay eggs in other birds’ nests and let those birds raise their chicks.”

Ladin said that while some species can recognize cowbird eggs and remove them from their nests, the wood thrush do not. “There’s an evolutionary arms race going on and the wood thrush have not figured that out quite yet.”

As far as the number of wood thrush breeding in UD’s ecology woods, Ladin said that there are currently around 20 birds per year, which is down considerably from the peak numbers of 70-80 during the 1990s.

Ladin’s research is trying to determine why the numbers are decreasing not just in the sites around Newark but across the eastern United States.

“One of the things we’re looking at is if the soil calcium is a limiting factor for birds, since they need it for their eggshells and the nestlings need it to grow their bones, and this is one of the highest concentrated areas of acid rain in the country,” said Ladin.

Ladin also wants his research to highlight the fact that on the East Coast, especially around the I-95 corridor, there may not be big patches of forests but there are lots of little patches that play an integral role in improving the environment.

“If you add up all these tiny patches of forests that have been subdivided, it’s actually over 1.2 million acres of forest,” said Ladin. “My motivation is to show people that this is highly critical habitat and that you can’t just discount a small patch of forest because its only three or four acres. Those patches provide really important services for us — like helping clean the water, and helping sequester carbon, reducing CO2 from the atmosphere — so we have to make sure we’re out to conserve their proper functioning. Studying the bird response in those patches is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to do that.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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Professors, students travel to UFLA; interns selected for collaborative work

April 24, 2012 under CANR News

Three professors and two graduate students from the University of Delaware spent spring break in Brazil, visiting the University Federal de Lavras (UFLA) campus, strengthening the academic and cultural bonds between the two universities and taking in the sites and sounds of the South American nation.

In addition, four UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) undergraduate students have been selected for an opportunity to develop international teaching modules in conjunction with professors and students at UFLA and UD, and to visit this University in 2013.

About the UFLA trip

During the spring break trip, the UD delegation spent its time meeting with faculty from UFLA, touring the facilities, teaching classes and taking trips to remote locations ranging from waterfalls to biodiesel factories. They were escorted by Eduardo Alves and Antonia dos Reis Figueira, both professors of plant pathology at UFLA.

Greg Shriver, assistant professor in CANR’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, said he found it to be a very informative trip and found that much of the research being conducted by entomologists at UFLA is similar to research under way at UD.

Talking with Jùlio Louzada, the head of UFLA’s applied ecology department, Shriver said, “They actually have a forest fragmentation study going on in and around Lavras, which is a lot like the study we have going on in and around Newark.”

Shriver and Zach Ladin, a CANR doctoral student, were able to visit part of the Cerrado, a vast tropical savannah ecoregion near the UFLA campus where the study is taking place, and said that the two universities hope to collaborate on their studies regarding dung beetles.

Nicole Donofrio, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said she was impressed by the campus, noting that “the academic buildings are gorgeous and equipped with an impressive array of new research equipment,” and added that the trip was crucial in providing strong connections between the two universities for the coming years.

“One of the goals was to make more connections and try to find additional links for people to have ‘sandwich students’ here in the next two years,” Donofrio said. Sandwich students refers to a program established between the universities in which UFLA doctoral students spend one year studying at UD that is “sandwiched” between their studies at UFLA.

Donofrio and Emily Alff, a CANR master’s student, taught a class on fungal transformation for the UFLA students. Alff said that being on the UFLA campus was a tremendous experience. “All the research they do is so applied,” she said. “It really makes you think about the bigger picture of research as a whole.” She added that the food and climate were perfect, saying, “Brazil is just a gorgeous country.”

Tom Powers, assistant professor of philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and director of UD’s Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy, said he was impressed by a UFLA practice in which they try to “leave nothing behind.”

Powers joined Donofrio and Alff on a visit to UFLA’s model biodiesel and bioethanol plant, located on the campus. “They use the water from the roof and the parking lot to run a lot of the processes,” he said, adding, “They use everything from, or have the potential to use everything from, fish guts to waste from sugar cane and castor beans. So, in terms of using all of these materials for the production of biofuels, it’s really astounding. And then what they don’t make into biodiesel they make into soap and everything else. They’re really trying to find some use for every byproduct in the production process.”

About the Brazil internships

Four CANR student interns have been chosen for an opportunity to conduct research and teach courses at UFLA.

The four interns who have been chosen for the project are:

  • Sarah Thorne, a junior;
  • Sara Laskowski, a junior;
  • Jacqueline Hoban, a freshman; and
  • Melanie Allen, a junior.

The internship will run from April 2012 through June 2013, with the interns supervised by UD faculty teams.

Hoban said she is looking forward to getting to travel to Brazil, and “excited about getting to work with a lot of interesting people and learning about a wide variety of research topics.” Hoban said that the internship “appealed to me not only because of the exciting travel opportunity, but also because it seemed like a really interesting way to apply the material that I have been studying in class.  The project gives me a different perspective on the subjects that I am interested in learning about. It also opens my mind to the educational aspect of my fields of study.”

Hoban added, “Everyone on the team seems like they have a lot of passion for their research and I cannot wait to work with them.”

The project is led by a faculty team from CANR and CAS and is intended to help build longstanding academic programs and research partnerships with UFLA that will enhance the international nature of curricula in areas of common interest, such as food security, bioenergy animal agriculture and biodiversity.

The project will also aim to stimulate creative thinking in the students who participate about how to develop innovative solutions to complex global agricultural and environmental problems.

There will be a curriculum enhancement portion of the internship, where students will assist faculty on both a part time and eventually a full time basis, and an experiential learning aspect, where the students will travel to Brazil for up to four weeks with UD faculty.

The interns will be responsible for developing a minimum of two teaching modules per course, and the modules will consist of PowerPoint presentations or other innovative learning methods that provide detailed information on the course topics developed by the interns and their faculty advisers.

This new research and teaching project is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s International Science and Education Program.

Article by Adam Thomas

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Study to quantify turbine impact on birds and bats

March 7, 2011 under CANR News

A study will quantify the impact of the wind turbine at UD's Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes on birds and bats.

The University of Delaware’s 2-megawatt wind turbine is the site of new research that will help answer a common question about the alternative energy producers: How do they affect birds and bats?

The two-year project, which will assess the mortality risk of birds and bats around the turbine, is led by UD Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology researchers Jeffrey Buler and Gregory Shriver. It is funded by First State Marine Wind, a partnership between UD-owned Blue Hen Wind and turbine manufacturer Gamesa. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) also committed funds to support the effort.

A complementary project at the wind turbine that focuses solely on bats is being conducted by an expert at Delaware State University and is funded by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

While a University-commissioned pre-construction study found that the turbine’s impacts on birds are likely to be minimal, that study also recommended that UD undertake post-construction monitoring. One motivating factor is the machine’s location at UD’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, which sits along an important international flyway stopover for migrating birds. UD and Gamesa thus placed a priority on this research once the turbine was up and running (it began producing power in summer 2010).

The research also fulfills UD obligations under the federal National Environmental Policy Act. UD has been working closely with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DNREC and other stakeholders on the scope of the study.

“The results of the study will be useful for other coastal communities considering wind turbines and ought to provide some useful lessons for offshore wind energy projects,” said Jeremy Firestone, associate professor of marine policy. Firestone is a wind energy expert and faculty member in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE) and CEOE’s Center for Carbon-free Power Integration (CCPI).

The UD project began March 1, with spring and fall sampling periods focusing on birds and bats migrating through the area and summer and winter periods on resident bird and bat flight activity.

During each of the four seasons, the researchers will use a variety of techniques to collect data. Acoustic monitoring, visual surveys, radar, and thermal imaging will provide information on bird and bat traffic and flight patterns. Spring and fall carcass searches around the turbine will help determine the fatality rate.

Local and regional weather data, which will help researchers understand bird and bat movement, will be provided by a nearby meteorological tower and the National Weather Service.

“We want to monitor how much bird and bat activity there is in the vicinity of the turbine so we have a context for how much risk there may be for them to collide with the turbine,” said Buler, who specializes in using radar to track bird migration.

The scientists also want to know which birds and bats are moving through the area. Although the main focus is on migrating land birds and bats, other types of birds also occur near the turbine throughout the year. These include raptors, waterfowl, marsh birds, and shorebirds.

The team expects to have a final report of data and analysis completed by December 2013. They will present findings at technical meetings and publish them in scientific journals. The researchers also will share their bat data with Delaware State’s Kevina Vulinec, an expert on the winged mammals whose research looks to determine the type of bats around the turbine and their behavior.

“We are pleased by the collaboration with Delaware State University,” Firestone said. “These research projects are a prime example of how the UD wind turbine can serve as a platform for important research that will benefit society.”

Article by Elizabeth Boyle
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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CANR Summer Institute offers glimpse of graduate student life

July 20, 2010 under CANR News

This summer five undergraduate students are conducting research with faculty mentors in the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), experiencing the challenges and rewards of what a graduate education at UD might be like.

As participants in the Summer Institute in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences, hosted by the college, these students are taking part in ongoing research projects guided by personal faculty mentors, networking with current graduate students and other staff within CANR, and interacting with industry professionals.

“The Summer Institute is a team effort by faculty from all departments in our college,” said Tom Sims, deputy dean of the college. “It provides these five outstanding undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct hands-on research and learn about the range of graduate education opportunities available in the agricultural and natural resources sciences.”

Now in its second year, the 10-week program — funded by the college and a Graduate Innovation and Improvement Grant from UD’s Office of Graduate and Professional Education – draws students from under-represented populations who are interested in a graduate degree in agriculture and natural resource sciences.

Maria Pautler, the program’s coordinator, said the Summer Institute was expanded from 4 to 10 weeks after last year’s participants suggested a longer program. The extended program allows students to become more involved with their research projects and present their findings at a campus-wide symposium at the end of the summer, she said.

“This, coupled with opportunities to attend seminars, workshops, and panelist luncheons, is exposing the students to facts and opinions on preparation for, and life in and beyond, graduate school,” Paulter said.

The 2010 CANR Summer Institute participants are:

Kamedra McNeil, of Forestville, Md., is a molecular biology major at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. McNeil is involved in the Winston-Salem Student Government Association, Tri-Beta Biological Honors Society, NSCS Scholars and Pre-Marc Scholars. She is interested in a career in forensic biology. During her time at the Summer Institute, McNeil is studying different genes associated with photoperiod in plants. Her faculty mentor is Randall Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences.

Shurnevia Strickland, of Philadelphia, is a senior applied animal science major at UD. Strickland is secretary and webmaster for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS). She is interested in future research with genetics. At the Summer Institute, Strickland is studying the endothelin 3 gene in the silkie chicken. Her faculty mentor is Carl Schmidt, associate professor of animal and food sciences.

Rochelle Day, of Laurel, Del., is a senior pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major at UD. Day is a member of Puppy Raisers of UD (PROUD) and MANRRS, and is looking toward a career in animal pathology. At the Summer Institute, Day is mapping the genome of the Infectious Laryngotracheitis Virus (ILTV), an upper respiratory disease in birds that causes economic losses for the poultry industry. Her faculty mentor is Calvin Keeler, professor of animal and food sciences.

Rothman Reyes, of Long Island, N.Y., is a sophomore pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major at UD with minors in sexuality and gender studies, and women’s studies. Reyes raises puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and is a member of the LEARN mentor program. He also serves as co-president of the PROUD special interest community. Reyes hopes to practice veterinary medicine at a zoo. At the Summer Institute, Reyes is creating a fosmid library, where he will induce a mutation onto the Infectious Laryngotracheitis Virus (ILTV) to create a vaccine. His faculty mentor is also Calvin Keeler.

Kristina Barr, of Kingstree, SC., is a senior biology major at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. She is a member of the Environmental Awareness Club at her school and plans to pursue a career as an ecologist. Her research at the Summer Institute involves the effects of rose bushes on birds’ ability to forage for food. Her faculty mentors are Jacob Bowman, associate professor, and Greg Shriver, assistant professor, both of entomology and wildlife ecology.

Article by Chelsea Caltuna

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Center for Managed Ecosystems puts past urban forest research into new FRAME

June 8, 2010 under CANR News

Greg Shriver, assistant professor of wildlife ecology in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and research scientist with the Center for Managed Ecosystems at the University of Delaware, is collaborating with the U.S. Forest Service to continue work on a project that focuses on assessing the conditions of urban forests and explores ways in which to improve those conditions.

The project is known as Forest Fragments in Managed Ecosystems, or FRAME, and it has its origins in a study titled “Wildlife Ecology and Urban Impact” conducted 45 years ago at UD by scientists in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and the Forest Service.

The 1965 study was continued by Roland Roth, UD professor emeritus of wildlife ecology, beginning in 1972. Although Roth could not have known at the time, Shriver said that his work — conducted on the UD Farm — became the longest running study on the demographics of the wood thrush, a neotropical migratory bird.

Shriver, who subsequently picked up the mantle, called the wood thrush the “hallmark species” for this research and said FRAME builds on Roth’s earlier studies. The FRAME project was initiated as a collaborative effort between Shriver; Vincent D’Amico, a Forest Service scientist stationed at UD; Jake Bowman, associate professor of entomology and wildlife ecology; and Jeff Buler, assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology.

Shriver said FRAME is “a fairly large-scale forest fragmentation study aimed at assessing the condition of urban forest fragments to see if we can increase their quality.”

These forest patches dotting the developed landscape “are providing the some of the only remaining habitat for neotropical migratory birds, small mammals, and insects,” he said.

The group is currently establishing long-term plots and surveying the condition of Mid-Atlantic forest fragments.

After assessing the overall health of the forest fragments, Shriver said he and his colleagues will research ways to improve them. “The big picture is that these fragments are providing important ecosystem services — air, water, things required to make the area livable,” he said. “The goal of the FRAME project is to better understand the interactions between soil, water, plants and the animals dependent on them within urban and suburban environments.”

Shriver, who will be aided by graduate students, said the study will be multifaceted, with the first part focusing on multitrophic effects of soil acidification and biodiversity.

“There has been some concern that acidification in soils, especially here in the Northeast, could be limiting the availability of calcium-rich prey — such as snails and isopods — that birds need during the breeding season to make eggshells and feed their nestlings, because the nestlings’ growth rate is so fast and they need so much calcium,” Shriver said. “Studies have shown that if you have limited calcium availability, you have limited calcium-rich prey, which then limits the breeding density and reproductive success of some bird species.”

The FRAME study has broken the Newark area’s urban forest fragments into grids using GPS systems, starting with the original study patch from the Roth study and adding 19 other woodlots.

In each of the fragments, Shriver said he and his students plan to “estimate breeding bird territory density, nest survival, a measure of reproductive success, and species diversity. We’re also taking soil samples and then litter samples to see if we can link the soil pH to calcium-rich prey.”

Shriver explained that a low pH means that the soil has a high amount of acidification, and that “the acidification comes mostly from acid rain, which has been greatly reduced since the height of the Industrial Revolution, but the soils have likely not recovered. Once you push a soil into an acidic state, unless it has some buffering capacity, it is very hard to get it back.”

What happens with soil that has been pushed to an acidic state, he said, is a reduction in calcium-rich prey, which in turn limits food for breeding birds. The birds either have lowered reproductive success or leave that forest fragment.

The first two years of the FRAME study are dedicated to gathering the pre-data, showing the present condition of the soil. Shriver said the research team then plans to “lime the forest patches to see if we can increase their quality, which will raise the pH and release the calcium,” thereby improving biodiversity.

They plan to treat 10 sites with lime and leave another 10 sites untreated in order to compare differences in soil quality. He said he is confident that “changing the pH is going to change a lot to these forest fragments.”

The research team is partnering with the Newark Department of Parks and Recreation, New Castle County Parks, and Delaware State Parks. Shriver said that “without the cooperation and enthusiasm we’ve received from all the partners, this project would not be possible.”

Shriver received a bachelor of science degree in wildlife management from the University of Maine, a master’s degree in wildlife conservation from the University of Massachusetts and a doctorate in environmental forest biology from the State University of New York (SUNY). He joined the UD faculty in 2005.

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