Bard biology professor Cathy Collins has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to study how landscape fragmentation interferes with plant-pathogen interactions that maintain local plant diversity. Plant diseases are often thought of as backyard nuisances or crop destroyers, but they can also play beneficial roles in unmanaged ecosystems by maintaining plant diversity. Each plant species has its own unique cohort of specialist pathogens. By slowing the growth or increasing the mortality of plants they infect, these pathogens prevent any single plant species from dominating an area. Many ecosystems are being broken up into smaller fragments due to land-use changes such as suburban sprawl. Habitat edges and small habitat patches experience environmental extremes such as higher temperatures, more light, and lower soil moisture. These conditions, in turn, influence plant disease. Collins’s research, which includes work with Bard students, will explore if and how conditions in fragments change the way plants interact with their pathogens and the resulting impacts on local plant diversity. The project, which is in collaboration with Sarah Lawrence College biology professor Michelle Hersh, received a total of $600,000 from NSF.
Biology senior Molly McQuillan and professor Arseny Khakhalin coauthored on a neuroscience paper published in the prestigious life sciences journal eLife. The paper presents new research that explains how the developing brain learns to integrate simultaneous sensory cues—sound, touch, and visual—that would be ignored individually.
Full citation: Truszkowski, Torrey LS, Oscar A. Carrillo, Julia Bleier, Carolina Ramirez-Vizcarrondo, Molly McQuillan, Christopher P. Truszkowski, Arseny S. Khakhalin, and Carlos D. Aizenman. “A cellular mechanism for inverse effectiveness in multisensory integration.” eLife 6 (2017): e25392.
Why should people protect biodiversity? Researchers from a number of disciplines have proposed ethical, aesthetic, and utilitarian reasons to do so. But recently some researchers have argued that ecosystems that support high diversity pose a danger to human health. They argue that because areas with high biodiversity are likely to support a high diversity of potential human pathogens, these areas should be hotspots for the emergence of infectious diseases.
In this paper, Felicia Keesing and Rick Ostfeld evaluate the evidence for three necessary links that are required by this argument. They found no support for one critical link—that high total diversity of pathogens correlates with high diversity of actual or potential pathogens of humans. This suggests that high biodiversity should not be expected to lead to more infectious diseases of humans. In contrast, there is now substantial evidence that high diversity protects humans against the transmission of many existing diseases.
This amazing photo of a Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) was made by Bard biology senior Devin Fraleigh, who is now working with Panthera foundation, in collaboration with the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgzstan, to study populations of Snow Leopards in the Tien Shan mountains. This image of an adult leopard was captured using an automated camera in early March 2017 on a mountain pass in the Ala-Too mountain range, not far from Bishkek.
The bio seminars happen every Thursday at noon, in RKC 103 (large auditorium). The list of speakers and talks this semester:
- 2-Feb: Information session
- 9-Feb: Cancelled because of a snowstorm
- 16-Feb: Emma Rosi; Cary Institute; Our Rivers on Drugs
- 23-Feb: Kirk Haltaufderhyde; University of RI; Characterization of Human T cell Response to Dengue
- 2-Mar: Paolo Forni; SUNY Albany; Terminal differentiation of vomeronasal sensory neurons and GnRH-1 neuronal migration, from new models to new stories
- 9-Mar: Jordan Ruybal; U Scranton; The influence of climate change and evolution on mosquito life history traits and pathogen transmission
- 16-Mar: Cathy Collins, on the ecology of plant-fungal interactions
- 23-Mar: Spring Recess
- 30-Mar: Sarita Lagalwar; Skidmore; Ataxin1-pS776: Single site phosphorylation and its impact on neurodegenerative disease
- 6-Apr: Chris Elphick; U Connecticut; Canaries in the saltmarsh: tidal marsh conservation in the face of sea level rise
- 13-Apr: Cancelled
- 20-Apr: Sarah Bowden; Cary Institute; The ecology of West Nile virus in the United States
- 27-Apr: Charvann Bailey; Vassar; Molecular mechanisms of SLUG-induced chemotherapeutic resistance in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC)
- 4-May: Alexander Petroff; Rockefeller; tbc (mathematical dynamics of microbial cooperation)
- 11-May: Michelle Hersh; Sarah Lawrence; tbc (ecology of fungal-plant interactions)
- 18-May: Student talks
A paper, recently published by Eli Dueker and co-authors, analyzes migration and exchange of bacteria between sewage, sediment, water, and air. The papers discusses possible implications of this often overlooked exchange of small particles on public health, and on strategies of waste disposal.
Citation: O’Mullan, G. D., Dueker, M. E., & Juhl, A. R. (2017). Challenges to Managing Microbial Fecal Pollution in Coastal Environments: Extra-Enteric Ecology and Microbial Exchange Among Water, Sediment, and Air. Current Pollution Reports, 3(1), 1-16.
For centuries followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church have conserved patches of native trees around church buildings as sacred sanctuaries for church communities. Today there are as many as 20 000 church forests in northern Ethiopia’s Amhara Peoples National Regional State – these unique social-ecological systems offer an opportunity to study multiple natural forest patches across a large multipurpose landscape, including in many places where little or no other natural forest remains. This image is a satellite photo of Robit Bata church, located 15 km north of the city of Bahir Dar, and three km upstream of Lake Tana (the largest lake in Ethiopia). The natural forest at Robit Bata church hosts some of the only mature indigenous trees in the local landscape. In her recent paper, Bard professor Cathy Collins and colleagues illustrate how understanding patterns in the tree species composition of church forests requires consideration of the complex interplay between ecological gradients and anthropogenic influences over time. This publication also made a cover page of the January issue of “Ecography” journal.
Citation: Reynolds, T. W., Collins, C. D., Wassie, A., Liang, J., Briggs, W., Lowman, M., … & Adamu, E. (2017). Sacred natural sites as mensurative fragmentation experiments in long‐inhabited multifunctional landscapes. Ecography, 40(1), 144-157.
For her senior project Martie studied the behavioural response in captive common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus – the second smallest primate in the world) to the introduction of a novel foraging-enrichment device. In captivity, animals often become bored, depressed, or stressed, and enrichment is a way in which caretakers can improve the lives of captive animals. Compared to many other animals, monkeys are very smart, and therefore need even more stimulation to keep them physically and psychologically active. Knowing how to keep animals happy and healthy in captivity is a highly important aspect of conservation biology.
In the wild, marmosets don’t just collect fruits and insects like many other monkeys do, but gouge trees with their teeth and suck out the sap. In captivity however, most monkeys are fed fruits and vegetables from stationary bowls, which provides enough nutrition, but gives no practice in natural ways foraging, and makes the marmosets lose their ability to gouge trees. With the help of Bard professor Felicia Keesing, Martie designed a novel enrichment device for captive marmosets living in captivity in Costa Rica. The device was made of a small wooden log with holes drilled all around it, that Martie filled with honey and hang up vertically in the cages. This study was the first ever to try honey as a sap substitute for common marmosets, and Marite found that this simple device increased positive foraging behaviours and decreased inactivity, significantly improving the well-being of captive monkeys.
Professor Bruce Robertson had two new publications in the fall 2016: one review on the theory of evolutionary traps, and an experimental study, in which he and his colleagues from Hungary looked at the polarizing properties of solar panels, and the effects this light polarization may have on the life cycle of aquatic insects. This line work was since continued by Bard students, and will undoubtedly bring more senior projects next year.
Száz, D., Mihályi, D., Farkas, A., Egri, Á., Barta, A., Kriska, G., … & Horváth, G. (2016). Polarized light pollution of matte solar panels: anti-reflective photovoltaics reduce polarized light pollution but benefit only some aquatic insects. Journal of Insect Conservation, 20(4), 663-675.
Robertson, B. A., & Chalfoun, A. D. (2016). Evolutionary traps as keys to understanding behavioral maladapation. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 12, 12-17.
Last fall, students in the non-major level Conservation Biology class, taught by professor Cathy Collins, researched and wrote children’s books about the ecology and conservation of Hudson Valley ecosystems. They first consulted with first- and second-graders in October to find out what they knew, and worked in groups to write and illustrate books. In December, 2016 Bard students visited the JFK Elementary school in Kingston again, this time to read their stories to the children. They then donated their books to each classroom, and a story to each child.
This project was supported by the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard.