Tag Archive for environmental studies

Discovery by Chernoff and Students Challenges a Tenet of Evolutionary Biology

Barry Chernoff and students in University of Michigan lab

Barry Chernoff and students in his Tropical Ecology course conducted research at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, where they discovered two new species of fish that challenged an expectation from evolutionary theory.

As organisms evolve over time, changes in size—both miniaturization and gigantism—are a major theme. In fish, which are the specialty of Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, Professor of Biology and of Earth & Environmental Sciences, miniaturization happens in many lineages, though it’s not very common. Evolutionary biology has long held that this miniaturization is often accompanied by developmental simplification or paedomorphisis (becoming sexually mature while appearing juvenile-like).

chernoffLast March, just before the pandemic began, Chernoff and students in his Tropical Ecology course (ENVS/Bio/E&ES 306) took a trip to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., which is home to one of the largest scientific collections of natural history objects, or specimens, and allows visitors to work with their collections. There, they discovered two new species of fish from the tropics—one from Honduras and one from Colombia. In these new species, the data demonstrated the opposite of expectations from evolutionary theory: that miniaturization occurred with developmental acceleration. That is, the miniatures achieve adult morphology in a shorter period of time by accelerating the transformation from juvenile morphologies to adult morphologies.

Ostfeld ’10 Fundraising for Organic Farm Food Ordering App via Kickstarter

Rosemary Ostfeld '10

Rosemary Ostfeld ’10

Rosemary Ostfeld ’10, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies, is developing a smartphone app to re-energize the connection between communities and local farms so people can purchase healthy and sustainable food options. Called “Healthy PlanEat,” the app will allow patrons to order food from local organic farms.

Ostfeld launched her Kickstarter in January, and she’s hoping to raise $40,000 by Feb. 15. The idea has also appeared in The Hartford Courant, The Day, and The Middletown Press.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. The Washington Post: “How One College Is Helping Students Get Engaged in Elections—and, No, It’s Not Political”

President Michael Roth writes about Wesleyan’s initiative to engage students meaningfully in work in the public sphere ahead of the 2020 elections, and calls on other colleges and universities to do the same. He writes: “Now is the time for higher education leaders to commit their institutions to find their own paths for promoting student involvement in the 2020 elections. This kind of direct participation in civic life provides an educational benefit that will help students develop skills for lifelong active citizenship; participants will gain organizational skills, learn to engage productively with others with whom they disagree and learn about themselves.”

2. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education: “Nicole Stanton Will Be the Next Provost at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut”

Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton will begin her new role as Wesleyan’s 12th provost and vice president for academic affairs on May 15. She joined Wesleyan in 2007 as associate professor of dance, and currently serves as dean of the Arts and Humanities.

Startup Incubator Class Pitches Ideas to Middletown Community

start up

The members of Wesleyan’s Startup Incubator stand together on pitch night, held in downtown Middletown on the second floor of Main Street Market. From left to right, beginning with the front row: Tommy Doyle ’21 and Bobby Iwashima ’22. Along the wall: Itzel Valdez ’23, Daniel Banks ’22, Lucas Pabarcius ’22, Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Rosemary Ostfeld ’10, MA ’11, Shane Chase, program director at reSET (an affiliated organization), Nigel Hayes ’23, Ona Hauert ’20, Will Huestis ’22, Zachary Zavalick ’20, and Nolan Collins ’23 (missing from photo: Beckett Azevedo ’21). (Photo by Dennis Hohne)

Eleven students from CSPL 239, Startup Incubator: The Art and Science of Launching Your Idea, took turns standing before an audience of their peers and members of Middletown’s Chamber of Commerce on the second floor of Main Street Market. Each offered a polished presentation detailing the need for their proposed startup, their mission, target market, and success indicators for the business, nonprofit, or community-based program they imagine. The evening was hosted through Collision-CT and the Middletown Entrepreneurs Workspace Plus (MEWS+). The course was made possible by CTNext and the Newman’s Own Foundation.

Taught this year by Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Rosemary Ostfeld ’10, MA ’11, the course was initially developed in 2018 by Makaela Kingsley ’98, director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, in collaboration with reSET, the Hartford-based social enterprise trust.

Students Use GIS Skills to Help Solve Environmental Problems

reed

In the Introduction to GIS course, Joshua Reed ’21 used governmental data to explore “The Relationship Between Education and Poverty in the US.”

Fifteen Wesleyan students who were enrolled in the Introduction to GIS course this fall learned how to apply GIS concepts and skills to solve local problems in environmental sciences.

Kim Diver, associate professor of the practice of environmental sciences, taught the class and an accompanying service-learning lab component. After learning about the basic theory of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), data collection, data management, spatial analysis, visualization, and map preparation, the students were paired with a community partner or organization to assist them with an issue.

On Dec. 5, the students presented the results of their projects to their community partners and other students and faculty.

Joshua Reed ’21 worked with Wesleyan Book Buds, an Office of Community Service student group on a study titled “The Relationship Between Education and Poverty in the US.”

Students Create Performances Based on Shadowing Physical Plant Employees

As part of the Introduction to Environmental Studies class, six students embedded themselves into the work lives of Wesleyan’s Physical Plant employees to learn the inner workings of campus.

Leila Henry ’23, Serena Aimen ’22, Tanvi Punja ’22, Molly Scotti ’22, Nina Criswell ’22, and Mikaela Marcotullio ’23 shadowed the Physical Plant workers for three-hour shifts every week throughout the fall semester. The experience concluded with performances on Dec. 5 that represented the culmination of that work.

The class was taught by Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, and the performances were curated with the help of Allison Orr, creative director of Forklift Danceworks and the Distinguished Fellow in the College of the Environment.

The second-annual project grew out of BUILD (2016), a dance thesis performance choreographed by Clara Pinsky ’16.

Photos of the class presentations are below and on this Flickr album: (Photos by Laurie Kenney)

NASA Supports Poulos’s Wildfire Research

Helen

Helen Poulos examines a high fire severity site.

Wildfires can transform forest ecosystems to varying degrees, depending on fire severity. While low-severity wildfires change plant community composition by killing short-statured trees and understory plants, high-severity fires result in top kill of above-ground vegetation. This variation in wildfire effects can have major impacts on post-fire vegetation composition and water stress.

Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, received a $300,000 grant from NASA on Dec. 5 to examine how forests can permanently change in response to high-severity wildfire in southeastern Arizona.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. Marketplace Tech: “Twitter Bans Political Ads, But Is That All Good?”

Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, is interviewed about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s announcement that the platform would no longer run political ads. Fowler says implementing this ban is likely to be more complicated than it sounds, and she is skeptical that it will help to reduce the impact of disinformation and improve political discourse. Fowler was also interviewed on Marketplace Morning Report and quoted in Quartz on the ban.

2. NPR’s Throughline: “Zombies”

On Halloween, NPR’s Throughline podcast interviewed Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister as part of a deep dive into the history of zombies. Now a global phenomenon in pop culture, the idea of zombies originated in Haiti, back when it was a French colony called Saint-Domingue and many enslaved Africans were worked to death on plantations. The Haitian people ultimately rose up in revolution and defeated their colonizers. But after the revolution, many Haitians were forced back onto plantations when the French demanded reparations in exchange for recognizing their independence. “I think that the figure of the zombie is a reminder that slavery happened to people, that they freed themselves from it, that it still happens in a kind of an afterlife, and it echoes in social practices,” said McAlister. An abbreviated version of the story also aired on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

3. Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live: “Acknowledging Middletown’s Ties to Slavery”

What’s the Buzz About Pollinators? Class Visits Local Apiary to Find Out

bees

Drew Burnett, kneeling, at right, gave Wesleyan students a tour of a local apiary, where they learned about the centrality of honeybees to our industrialized agricultural system. The students are pictured holding Drew’s Honeybees lip balm.

Students in a Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems class recently stepped out of the classroom … and into beekeeping suits. The buzzworthy hands-on experience was part of a field trip to an apiary in Norwich, Conn.

“The course explores strategies to create a sustainable agriculture and food system,” said Rosemary Ostfeld ’10, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies, who teaches the class. Her students have already been gaining an understanding of some of the key environmental impacts associated with our agricultural system, and read Rachel Carson’s seminal Silent Spring. The purpose of the field trip on Sept. 18 “was to learn more about pollinators—specifically honeybees—and some of the reasons their populations have been declining in recent years,” Ostfeld said.

Hosting the students were beekeeper Drew Burnett and his assistant Curtis Witt. Burnett is the founder of Drew’s Honeybees, a honeybee-centric, all-natural, USDA organic skincare company. Drew’s Honeybees donates 20 percent of its profits to the State of Connecticut’s Agricultural Experiment Station to fund pioneering research into the causes of and solutions to Colony Collapse Disorder.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The Washington Post: “How the NRA Highjacked History”

In this op-ed, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker writes about the history of the legal debate over the Second Amendment, and explains how the court’s understanding of that history may shape the nation’s response to the current gun violence epidemic. Her op-ed was reported on in The Trace.

2. The Hill: “A Tragic Misperception About Climate Change”

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus, is co-author of this op-ed that argues “The U.S. contributes to global warming not only through its own emissions of greenhouse gases but also by the effect of its behavior on the actions of other countries.” The U.S. must first “get its own house in order,” then take steps to encourage other countries to take similar action to reduce carbon emissions, he writes.

3. Process: a blog for American history: “The Politics of Statehood in Hawai’i and the Urgency of Non-Statist Decolonization”

In this essay, written on the 60th anniversary of the United States claiming the Hawaiian islands as the 50th state of the union, Professor of American Studies J. Kēhaulani Kauanui reflects on the dispute over Maunakea, a sacred mountain that is currently under threat by those who want to construct a major observatory at its summit. She writes that the dispute “can be seen as a microcosm of the history of Hawai‘i’s (U.S.) statehood and earlier American encroachment.”

Poulos Studies Endangered Grass on Texas-Mexico Border

Pictured third from right, Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, gathers with the “Fescue Rescue” team at Maderas del Carmen Protected Area in Mexico. There, the scientists are studying Guadalupe fescue, an endangered grass species.

field sites in the Sierra del Carmens, Coahila Mexico

Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, works at a field site in the Sierra del Carmens, Coahuila Mexico. In September 2017, the U.S. government determined that Festuca ligulata needed protected species status and designated it a critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The rare Guadalupe fescue once thrived in abundance atop mountains spanning the Texas-Mexico border, however, the desert-growing perennial grass is now so endangered, it only flourishes in two locations on Earth.

The rapid population decline is leaving scientists puzzled.

“Developing an effective recovery plan is essential for protecting Guadalupe fescue, however, the lack of basic information about this species’ ecology is a serious barrier to that goal,” explained Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies. “Urgent action is needed to stabilize the two extant populations.”

This summer, under Poulos’s leadership, Wesleyan received a National Park Service Grant to study Festuca ligulata through the Southwest Borderlands Resource Protection Program. She joined a bi-national team of scientists known as “Fescue Rescue” to research the two isolated fescue populations in Texas’s Big Bend National Park and the Maderas del Carmen Protected Area in Coahuila, Mexico.

Said Poulos, a plant ecologist who has worked at desert borderland sites for more than a decade, “The Guadalupe fescue has become so endangered that this has become a significant national and international conservation concern.”

Backed by the NPS grant, the Fescue Rescue team will conduct onsite visits from October to mid-November 2019 during Guadalupe fescue seed maturation. Seeds will be collected during this time and transported to labs at Sul Ross State University in Texas and Universidad Autónoma Antonio Narro in Mexico. At these locations, scientists will germinate the seeds and grow their own fescue refugial populations for multiple research purposes.

“Together, they’ll provide a springboard for future plant population genetics, enrichment planting, and adaptive management research on both sides of the border,” Poulos said. “Such information is vital for elaborating site-specific management plans for the species on both U.S. and Mexican soils.”

They’ll study environmental variables, inventory seed production, identify key factors that promote reproductive viability, and ultimately establish refugial populations on both sides of the border.

Although virtually nothing is known about the environmental influences on the growth and reproduction of Guadalupe fescue, Poulos believes the fescue’s population decline is a result of multiple factors.

“Environmental factors that have likely negatively influenced the fescue populations include a recent shift to a hotter and drier climate, the genetic and demographic consequences of small population sizes and isolation, trampling by humans and pack animals, trail runoff, competition from invasive species, and fungal infection of seeds,” she said.

In addition, naturally occurring wildfires, which play an important role in rejuvenating ecosystems, are rare due to livestock grazing in the early 1900s and subsequent direct fire suppression continuing to the present. The remaining plants in the two disjunct populations are likely highly inbred and lack genetic diversity. This can threaten the capacity of populations to resist pathogens and parasites, adapt to changing environmental conditions, and colonize new habitats.

Poulos hopes to deliver her final reports to the National Park Service by summer 2020.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. Where We Live: “The Life and Legacy of American Composer Charles Ives”

Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, is a guest on this show about the legacy of composer Charles Ives. Bruce is the only pianist who has ever played all of the Ives music for solo voice, in a project called the Ives Vocal Marathon, which took place at Wesleyan in 2009. He is also the co-editor of a new collection of Ives songs, a former member of the board of the Charles Ives Society, and the chair of the Artistic Advisory Committee of the society.

2. The New York Times: “Don’t Dismiss ‘Safe Spaces'”

In this op-ed, President Michael Roth argues that while “safe spaces” can be taken too far on college campuses, the much-maligned concept actually “underlies the university’s primary obligations” to its students. He advocates for creating “safe enough spaces,” which “promote a basic sense of inclusion and respect that enables students to learn and grow—to be open to ideas and perspectives so that the differences they encounter are educative.” Roth further explores this topic and many others in his new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College CampusesHe was interviewed recently about the book on several radio shows, including The Jim Bohannon Show, The Brian Lehrer Show, WGBH On Campus Radio, and Wisconsin Public Radio, among others, and published op-eds in the Boston Globe and The Atlantic.