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.
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.
In the paper published in “Frontiers Neural Circuits”, Bard professor Arseny Khakhalin shows that a realistic artificial neural network, modeled after tadpole brain, can detect impeding collisions. In this study the network was not specifically designed or tuned for any particular task, but rather it was made to incorporate as much information about the tuning of actual neurons in real biological tadpole tecta as possible. After this realistic model was created, the team studied its properties in ways that would be hard to do in a real tadpole, and found that the network is uniquely suited to solve one of the key problems animals are facing: it naturally detects looming stimuli, and can help spatial navigation and predator detection.
Citation: Jang, E. V., Ramirez-Vizcarrondo, C., Aizenman, C. D., & Khakhalin, A. S. (2016). Emergence of selectivity to looming stimuli in a spiking network model of the optic tectum. Frontiers in Neural Circuits, 10.
Full text link: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fncir.2016.00095/full
In this paper, professor Gabriel Perron and the team tested a particular hypothesis about the mechanisms of bacterial evolution, and found that the data did not support this hypothesis. It is a really nice example of a publication that faithfully presents important negative results, when an attractive, logical, and perfectly plausible hypothesis has to be rejected based on experimental evidence.
Citation: McLeman, A., Sierocinski, P., Hesse, E., Buckling, A., Perron, G., Hülter, N., … & Vos, M. (2016). No effect of natural transformation on the evolution of resistance to bacteriophages in the Acinetobacter baylyi model system. Scientific Reports, 6.
Link to full text: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep37144
In this paper, co-authored with biologists from NY public schools, and several Bard students, professor Brooke Jude describes how middle schoolers can be productively involved in real microbiological research.
See the full paper here:
In this study, Bruce Robertson and coauthors tested whether non-native plant species may cause problems to Veeries when birds try to build nests in these plants. It appears that Veeries do indeed prefer non-native plants to native ones, but fortunately in this case their preference is not maladaptive, as non-native plants still provide enough protection and concealment for the nests.
Meyer, L. M., Schmidt, K. A., & Robertson, B. A. (2015). Evaluating exotic plants as evolutionary traps for nesting Veeries. The Condor, 117(3), 320-327.
Brains consist of many cells called neurons: billions of them in a human brain, and hundreds of thousands in the brain of a small fish or a frog tadpole. Many of these neurons are very much alike, and work together to process information in the brain. Yet while they are similar, they are not exactly identical. By looking at how individual neurons within a specific type differ from each other, it is possible to understand more about how they work together.
We have now compared the properties of the neurons in a part of the brain of a developing frog tadpole that processes sensory information. These neurons appear relatively similar to each other in young tadpoles, yet as the tadpoles grow and their brains become more elaborate the neurons become increasingly diverse, and their properties become more unique and nuanced.
Ciarleglio, C. M., Khakhalin, A. S., Wang, A. F., Constantino, A. C., Yip, S. P., & Aizenman, C. D. (2015). Multivariate analysis of electrophysiological diversity of Xenopus visual neurons during development and plasticity. eLife,4, e11351.
A publication by Brooke and Craig Jude in JMBE is focused on building microbial fuel cells (bacterially powered batteries) in the college and local school classroom! These microbial fuel cells serve as lab projects in Brooke Jude’s BIO145 Environmental Microbiology course and are also constructed when local 8th grade classes visit Bard through Center For Civic Engagement (CCE) sponsored events (that are taught by Bard students!)
Citation and full-text link: Jude CD, Jude BA. Powerful Soil: Utilizing Microbial Fuel Cell Construction and Design in an Introductory Biology Course. J Microbiol Biol Educ. 2015 Dec 1;16(2):286-8. doi: 10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.934. eCollection 2015 Dec.
The rise of antibiotic resistance found in microbial pathogens was driven by the use and misuse of antibiotics in modern medicine and agriculture. However, the extent to which antibiotic pollution impacted microbial communities found in soil and remote environments is unclear. Using a metagenomic approach to investigate microbes found in the Canadian high Arctic, Dr. Perron and colleagues found common microbial pathogens resistant to multiple antibiotics among these remote Arctic microbial communities. Dr. Perron’s team also showed that although antibiotic-resistant bacteria were also found in 5,000 years old permafrost soils, these bacteria did not show resistance profiles normally associated with infection.
Citation: Perron GG, Whyte L, Turnbaugh PJ, Goordial J, Hanage WP, Dantas G, & Desai MM. (2015). Functional characterization of bacteria isolated from ancient Arctic soil exposes diverse resistance mechanisms to modern antibiotics. PLoS ONE. 10: e0069533
In this paper a team of neuroscientists from Brown University and Bard College show that Xenopus tadpoles can be used as an experimental model to study molecular mechanisms of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We used a chemical called valproic acid that is known to increase the incidence of ASD in humans, and studied its action on tadpoles. It turned out that tadpoles exposed to valproic acid developed abnormalities that are surprisingly reminiscent of that in ASD-affected humans. It suggests that tadpoles can indeed be used to study the original molecular reasons that make “autistic brains” develop differently than “normal brains”.
Citation: James EJ, Gu J, Ramirez-Vizcarrondo CM, Hasan M, Truszkowski TL, Tan Y, Oupravanh PM, Khakhalin AS, Aizenman CD. (2015). Valproate-Induced Neurodevelopmental Deficits in Xenopus laevis Tadpoles. The Journal of Neuroscience, 35(7), 3218-3229.
Free text at PubMed Central.
Press-release from Brown University.