Tag Archive for faculty research

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.

Scholars Discuss Digital Methods in Research and Teaching

Faculty and students from Wesleyan, Binghamton University, Marlboro College, the University of Illinois and Exeter University participated in a two-day workshop titled "From Theory to Practice: Digital Methods in Research and Teaching" Sept. 7-8 in Allbritton Hall.

Faculty and students from Wesleyan, Binghamton University, Marlboro College, the University of Illinois and Exeter University participated in a two-day workshop titled “From Theory to Practice: Digital Methods in Research and Teaching” Sept. 7-8 at the Allbritton Center.

A new collaborative research hub, supported by Wesleyan’s Quantitative Analysis Center, provides faculty and students with the tools to prepare, analyze and disseminate information on movement, travel and communication in easily-accessible formats.

The Traveler’s Lab, developed by faculty members Gary Shaw, Jesse Torgerson and Adam Franklin-Lyons at Marlboro College, connects the faculty with each others’ projects, but also with students who are interested in an interdisciplinary approach to historical research.

Robinson Lab Researches the Effects of Junk Food Diets

Michael Robinson, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience and behavior at Wesleyan University. (Photo by Olivia Drake/Wesleyan University)

Michael Robinson

Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, is a co-author of a paper titled “The impact of junk-food diet during development on ‘wanting’ and ‘liking’.” The paper was recently published in The Behavioral Brain Research Journal. His co-authors include Wesleyan alumni Ellen Nacha Lesser ’15, Aime Arroyo-Ramirez ‘16, and Sarah Jingyi Mi ’16.

The research looked at the developmental impacts of a chronic junk-food diet throughout development and how it blunts pleasure and affects motivation. The study found that chronic exposure to a junk-food diet resulted in large individual differences in weight gain (gainers and non-gainers) despite resulting in stunted growth as compared to chow-fed controls. Behaviorally, junk food exposure attenuated conditioned approach (autoshaping) in females, particularly in non-gainers. In contrast, junk-food exposed rats that gained the most weight were willing to work harder for access to a food cue (conditioned reinforcement), and were more attracted to a junk-food context (conditioned place preference) than non-gainers.

Read the full article here.

Support Wesleyan Researchers in Crowdfunding Pilot

Four Wesleyan academic departments, from psychology to dance to chemistry to biology, are competing for grant funds through a new crowdfunding site specifically designed for research project fundraising.

experimentExperiment.com’s Challenge Grant for Liberal Arts Colleges asked scientists to define a scientific research question for the crowd with a prize for the project with the most backers. The pilot launched on Feb. 24 and concludes March 25.During this 31-day period, the goal is to reach $4,000 in funding. If so, the team is granted the money. If not, they receive nothing and no one’s pledges are charged. By backing a project, participants will receive updates, results and data from project creators.

Wesleyan research include how the brain prevents risky-decision making/addiction; the effects of using artificial sweeteners; controlling seizures with light; and the effectiveness of somatic mind-body practices on victims of the war.

On Wednesday, March 16 at 11:59 p.m., Experiment will award the project with the most backers $2,000 directly through their project page.

Wesleyan’s projects include:

Varekamp Leads Invited Talk at Geophysical Union Meeting

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Johan “Joop” Varekamp

Johan “Joop” Varekamp, the Howard T. Stearns Professor in Earth Science, led an invited talk at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco, Dec. 2015.

The earth and space science community participated in discussions of emerging trends and the latest research. The session, which was co-authored by former Wesleyan E&ES graduate student Lauren Camfield, focused on the 2012 eruption of the Copahue volcano in Argentina.

Due to the success of the invited talk on Volcanic Hydrothermal Systems, Varekamp will be a co-editor for a special issue of a journal based on that session. As part of his role as chair-elect of the Committee on Geology and Public Policy of the Geological Society of America (GSA), he will be interviewing five candidates in Washington D.C. for the position of congressional fellow.

Thomas Uses CT Scans, Computer-Aided Visualizations to Study and Teach Microfossils

Ellen Thomas, research professor of earth and environmental science, holds two samples of microfossils that were printed on a 3-D printer at the American Museum of Natural History. The printed fossil models are about 8,000 times bigger than the actual limestone fossils.  Ellen Thomas holds two planktonic forms which lived closer to the surface of the water. At left is Hantkenina alabamensis, which lived when the world was warm, and went extinct at the time of formation of the Antarctic ice cap about 33.7 million years ago. At right is Globigerinella siphonifera. It lives in the subtropics today, in open ocean. "When it's alive, it has spines and protoplasm inside and along the spines," she said.

Ellen Thomas, research professor of earth and environmental science, holds two samples of microfossils that were printed on a 3-D printer at the University of Iowa. The printed fossil models are about 8,000 times bigger than the actual limestone fossils. These planktonic forms lived closer to the surface of the water. At left is Hantkenina alabamensis, which lived when the world was warm, and went extinct at the time of formation of the Antarctic ice cap about 33.7 million years ago. At right is Globigerinella siphonifera. It lives in the subtropics today, in open ocean. “When it’s alive, it has spines and protoplasm inside and along the spines,” she said. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

This slide contains 65 different microfossil specimens taken from an ocean drilling site in the eastern Indian Ocean. Some are estimated to be 55.8 millions years old and span a duration of 170,000 years. During this time, there was an extinction of deep-sea benthic foraminifera which may have been caused by rapid global warming.

This slide contains more than 300 microfossil specimens from an ocean drilling site in the eastern Indian Ocean. These are estimated to be 55.8 millions years old, and lived during a period of extreme global warming with a duration of 170,000 years. At the beginning of this warm period, there was a mass extinction of deep-sea benthic foraminifera, which may have been caused by the rapid global warming and ocean acidification.

#THISISWHY

Research Professor Ellen Thomas grasps a glass-enclosed sample of hundreds of microfossils, each a white fleck of limestone barely visible to the human eye.

“The first time students look at these they say, ‘they all look the same to me,’ but in reality, they are all have very different shapes,” Thomas says. “Even under a microscope, it can be difficult for a new eye to see the differences, but each species has its own shape; some have a much more open, light structure because they lived floating in the oceans close to the surface. Others have denser shells and lived on the bottom of the ocean, or within the mud. And each one can tell us, in its chemical make up, what the environmental conditions were like at the time that they lived and built their shells.”

By studying and analyzing microfossils, Thomas and fellow scientists are able to explore aspects of climate change on a variety of timescales,

Stemler’s New Study Finds Educational Interventions Cannot Be “Scaled Up”

Steven Stemler, associate professor of psychology, collaborated with researchers at a number of other universities on a major new study, which found that context matters when implementing educational interventions.

Steven Stemler, associate professor of psychology, collaborated with researchers at a number of other universities on a major new study, which found that context matters when implementing educational interventions.

It turns out that teaching language arts, math and science to fourth graders is not the same as manufacturing cars on an assembly line. That is, the microeconomics principle of economies of scale—or the cost advantages that businesses get by increasing the scale of production—do not always apply to educational interventions.

Put another way, an intervention that works great in one specific educational setting cannot necessarily be “scaled up” to work in many other settings.

This is the finding of a major new study funded by the National Science Foundation, on which Associate Professor of Psychology Steven Stemler collaborated with colleagues at a number of other universities including Yale, Cornell and the University of Sydney. The study, carried out in 223 classrooms across the country in the early- to mid-2000s, was published in the American Psychology Association’s Journal of Educational Psychology in August. The paper is titled “Testing the Theory of Successful Intelligence in Teaching Grade 4 Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science.”

NASA Grant to Fund Study on Venus’s Landscape

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Holding a globe model of the planet Venus, Martha Gilmore, associate professor of earth and environmental science, and Phil Resor, assistant professor of earth and environmental science, will study an area on Venus that contains the oldest rocks on the planet’s surface. (Photo by Olivia Bartlett)

Thanks to NASA, two Earth and Environmental Science faculty are going to spend the better part of their next three summers on Venus looking at volcanoes and mountain ranges.

Specifically, Martha Gilmore, associate professor of earth and environment science, and Phillip Resor, assistant professor of earth and environmental science, will be using a three-year NASA grant to examine an area of Venus called the Tellus Regio, which is contains some of the oldest rocks on the planet’s surface.

“It’s an area of interest for two reasons, primarily,” says Gilmore, who has done work on Mars and Venus missions, among others for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “First, it’s an area that is high on NASA’s list of