Mike Singer, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation this month to support a study on habitat fragmentation. Fragmentation occurs when contiguous habitats become separated into smaller, isolated areas often caused by human activities (new roads, housing developments) or natural processes (flooding, drought).
Singer and his colleagues will study the effect of anthropogenic forest fragmentation on the food web of plants, herbivores, and carnivores (tri-trophic interactions) in Connecticut. The project will focus on relationships among deer, trees, caterpillars, and songbirds.
The grant, which will be awarded over three years, is shared with Robert Bagchi, David Wagner, and Christopher Elphick in the University of Connecticut’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Wesleyan’s part of the award totals $258,933 and UConn’s part totals approximately $573,000.
As part of the grant, Singer will recruit a new PhD student to work on the study.
The research team will test several possible reasons for the loss of caterpillars, which are important food for songbirds, in highly fragmented forests. For example, some of their preliminary evidence suggests that forest fragmentation creates better habitat for deer, which browse out some of the best food plant species for caterpillars.
The PhD student will be tasked with testing the hypothesis that caterpillars grow more poorly on the plants in highly fragmented versus large forest tracts.
At Wesleyan, Singer teaches courses on conservation biology, ecology, plant-animal interactions and evolutionary biology.