Animals caught in ‘ecological traps’ prefer the worst available habitats. This happens when environmental change makes habitats look superficially attractive when they are actually dangerous. Ecological traps are increasingly common, but it remains unclear how susceptible animals are to them. Aquatic flies, for example, can be highly attracted to asphalt because it reflects polarized light the same way that natural water bodies do.
In this study, Bard professor Bruce Robertson and his students exposed seven ecologically similar species of aquatic flies to different levels of polarized light, including abnormally strong polarized light associated with man-made habitats that are dangerous to them. They found that, in every species tested, animals actually preferred levels of polarized light typical of asphalt where their eggs perish, over levels typical of natural ponds. We also found that the degree of their preference depended on whether the cue was closer or more distant from a natural river.
Citation: Robertson, B. A., Keddy-Hector, I. A., Shrestha, S. D., Silverberg, L. Y., Woolner, C. E., Hetterich, I., & Horváth, G. (2018). Susceptibility to ecological traps is similar among closely related taxa but sensitive to spatial isolation. Animal Behaviour, 135, 77-84.
In this paper, Felicia Keesing and her collaborators explore the potential for positive interactions between livestock and wildlife in African savannas. Historically, the prevailing view has been that savanna landscapes should be managed for either livestock or wildlife, but not both. Keesing and her colleagues suggest that under some conditions, both groups — and the humans who share their habitat — could benefit ecologically and economically by sharing land.
Citation: Allan BF, Tallis H, Chaplin‐Kramer R, Huckett S, Kowal VA, Musengezi J, Okanga S, Ostfeld RS, Schieltz J, Warui CM, Wood SA, Keesing F. Can integrating wildlife and livestock enhance ecosystem services in central Kenya?. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 2017 Aug 1;15(6):328-35. Full text at Research Gate.
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.
Read full press-release from Bard
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.
Citation: Ostfeld, R. S., & Keesing, F. (2017). Is biodiversity bad for your health?. Ecosphere, 8(3).
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.
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: