Tag Archive for COE

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.

Undergraduates Share Summer Research

poster session

Ben Sullivan ’20 presents his poster titled “Tracking New York Times Coverage of Every Senator First Elected in the 1990s” during the Summer Program for Research in the Sciences Poster Session on July 25. His advisor is Logan Dancey, associate professor of government.

The Summe Program for Research in the Sciences culminated with a research poster session in the lobby of Exley Science Center, with more than 100 students participating.

The program, held May 29 to July 26, was open to frosh, sophomores and juniors currently enrolled at Wesleyan. Wesleyan science faculty members served as mentors for student research in their laboratories. In addition to the closing poster session, the students participated in weekly seminars and workshops, a symposium, and various social events. After the poster session, students displayed their posters in the hallways outside the introductory biology laboratories.

Yang ’21 Participates in NSF-Sponsored Workshop on Antarctic History

Donglai Yang ’21 worked at the University of Arizona this summer on a project titled “Cenozoic detrital record offshore Dronning Maud Land.” His workshop concluded on July 8.

For two weeks this summer, Donglai Yang ’21 used isotope dating of rocks, minerals, and sediments from the Weddell Sea near Antarctica to determine the age of a section of Earth’s southernmost continent.

Yang, an earth and environmental sciences and physics double major, was selected as one of 10 undergraduate and graduate students from around the world to participate in the National Science Foundation–sponsored Antarctichron/Chronothon 2019 workshop held June 24 to July 8 at the University of Arizona.

The workshop introduced participants to geo- and thermochronology through some applications to the geology of Antarctica. Students learned to analyze and interpret their own samples and data in the context of their own research projects.

Yang’s study focused on the “Cenozoic detrital record offshore Dronning Maud Land,” a Norwegian territory that makes up approximately 1/6 of Antarctica. He specifically studied rock and sediment fragments that broke away from a landmass.

“These sediments were deposited around 30 million years ago, but the minerals within that layer of sediments have diverse ages,” he said. “Those minerals are scraped directly from the Antarctic bedrock by glaciers so their ages bear complicated terrestrial thermal history.”

During the workshop, Yang participated in informal lectures and discussions and learned the fundamentals of radioisotopic dating, laboratory techniques, analytical instrumentation, basics of thermochronologic modeling, and the geology of Antarctica. Core samples were provided by the International Ocean Discovery Program sediment core repository and the fellowship also was supported by Wesleyan’s College of the Environment.

Yang’s advisor, Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, initially introduced Yang to the concept of radiometric dating in geosciences.

“I was fascinated at once,” he said. “Its current applications have far transcended its use since its advent when, about a hundred years ago, scientists finally managed to fathom the absolute age of the Earth.”

Now with a much-expanded understanding of the kinetics in multiple decay systems, questions that arise from almost every single field in earth and environmental sciences become resolvable to varying extents, Yang explained. “On top of this, our sedimentology lab reckons it a valuable opportunity to bring in some new techniques as we have rarely dealt with unstable isotopes in minerals before.”

After Yang graduates from Wesleyan, he plans on attending graduate school, conducting research in geophysics or geochemistry.

College of the Environment Supports 32 Student Researchers this Summer

This summer the College of the Environment is funding 32 research opportunities here on campus, from coast to coast, and worldwide, from Connecticut and California to Costa Rica and Ghana.

That’s more than $135K for undergrad research, regardless of major or class year.

Students are studying forest fragmentation in Connecticut; volcanic lake ecosystems in Oregon; Lingzhi mushroom’s influence on Chinese medicine; effects of mercury pollution on Eastern Blacknose Dace snakes; solar cell materials; and much more. 

Members of the Class of 2019 Inducted into Phi Beta Kappa

PBK

On May 25, members of the Class of 2019 were inducted into Wesleyan’s Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest national scholastic honor society. The Wesleyan Gamma Chapter was organized in 1845 and is the ninth-oldest chapter in the country.

To be elected, a student must first have been nominated by the department of his or her major. The student also must have demonstrated curricular breadth by having met the General Education Expectations and must have achieved a GPA of 93 and above.

Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest surviving Greek letter society in America, founded in December 1776 by five students who attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The emblem contains the three Greek letters “Phi-Beta-Kappa,” which are the initials of the Greek motto, Philosophia Biou Kybernetes. This essentially means “the love of wisdom is the guide of life.”

The spring 2019 inductees are:

Caroline Adams
Yulia Alexandr
Erin Angell
William Bellamy
Cara Bendich
Zachary Bennett
Chiara Bercu
Sophie Brett-Chin
Nicholas Byers
David Cabanero
Talia Cohen
John Cote 

6 Faculty Receive Endowed Professorships

Fred Cohan

Fred Cohan is one of six Wesleyan faculty to receive an endowed professorship in 2019.

In recognition of their career achievements, the following faculty members are being appointed to endowed professorships, effective July 1, 2019:

Frederick Cohan, professor of biology, is receiving the Huffington Foundation Professorship in the College of the Environment, established in 2010.

Susanne Fusso, professor of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies, is receiving the Marcus L. Taft Professorship of Modern Languages, established in 1880.

William Johnston, professor of history, is receiving a John E. Andrus Professorship of History, established in 1981.

Ethan Kleinberg, professor of history and professor of letters, is receiving the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professorship, established in 2008.

Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, is receiving the Lauren B. Dachs Professorship of Science and Society, established in 2008.

Daniel Krizanc, professor of computer science, is receiving an Edward Burr Van Vleck Professorship of Computer Science, established in 1982.

Brief biographies appear below:

Frederick Cohan arrived at Wesleyan in 1986 after completing his BS at Stanford University, his PhD at Harvard University, and a postdoctoral appointment at University of California, Davis. His research focuses on the origins of diversity in bacteria. His publications, which have been cited more than 8,000 times, recently include “How We Can All Share the Fight Against Infectious Disease” (Arcadia Political Review, Spring 2019) and “Systematics: The Cohesive Nature of Bacterial Species Taxa” (Current Biology, 2019). Cohan has received numerous grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and he was elected to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering in 2017.

Researchers Explore the Effects of Dam Removal on Bottom-Dwelling Aquatic Animals

COE

Kate Miller PhD ’13

Although dam removal is an increasingly common stream restoration tool, it may also represent a major disturbance to rivers that can have varied impacts on environmental conditions and aquatic biota.

In a paper titled “Dam Removal Effects on Benthic Macroinvertebrate Dynamics: A New England Stream Case Study, five researchers from Wesleyan examined the effects of dam removal on the structure, function, and composition of benthic macroinvertebrate (BMI) communities in a temperate New England stream. The benthic—or “bottom-dwelling”—macroinvertebrates are small aquatic animals that are commonly used to study biological conditions of water bodies.

The paper is published in the May 21 edition of Sustainability, an international, cross-disciplinary, scholarly, peer-reviewed and open-access journal of environmental, cultural, economic, and social sustainability of human beings.

Ross Heinemann '09, MA '13

Ross Heinemann ’09, MA ’13

The paper’s coauthors include Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies; Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies; Kate Miller PhD ’13; Ross Heinemann ’09, MA ’13; Michelle Kraczkowski PhD ’13; and Adam Whelchel from the Nature Conservancy in New Haven, Conn.

The results of their study indicated that the dam removal stimulated major shifts in BMI community structure and composition above and below the dam.

“Our research shows that the effects of dam removal on the river were not predictable. During the fours years of the study after dam removal, the river did not return to its original state in the areas where the dam was removed,” Chernoff explained.

Hatch Authors New Book on “The Secret Drugging of Captive America”

Associate Professor Anthony Hatch (Photo by Robert Adam Mayer).

Associate Professor Anthony Hatch (Photo by Robert Adam Mayer).

Associate Professor of Science in Society Anthony Ryan Hatch is the author of a new book, Silent Cells: The Secret Drugging of Captive America, published on April 30 by University of Minnesota Press.

The book is a critical investigation into the use of psychotropic drugs to pacify and control inmates and other captives in the vast U.S. prison, military, and welfare systems.

According to the publisher:

“For at least four decades, U.S. prisons and jails have aggressively turned to psychotropic drugs—antidepressants, antipsychotics, sedatives, and tranquilizers—to silence inmates, whether or not they have been diagnosed with mental illnesses. In Silent Cells, Anthony Ryan Hatch demonstrates that the pervasive use of psychotropic drugs has not only defined and enabled mass incarceration but has also become central to other forms of captivity, including foster homes, military and immigrant detention centers, and nursing homes.

Yohe in The Conversation: The Economic Cost of Devastating Hurricanes and Other Extreme Weather Events Is Even Worse Than We Thought

Gary Yohe

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Gary Yohe writes about the economic costs of climate change, which he argues will hit our economy much sooner than many people realize.

The economic cost of devastating hurricanes and other extreme weather events is even worse than we thought

June marks the official start of hurricane season. If recent history is any guide, it will prove to be another destructive year thanks to the worsening impact of climate change.

But beyond more intense hurricanes and explosive wildfires, the warming climate has been blamed for causing a sharp uptick in all types of extreme weather events across the country, such as severe flooding across the U.S. this spring and extensive drought in the Southwest in recent years.

Late last year, the media blared that these and other consequences of climate change could cut U.S. GDP by 10% by the end of the century – “more than double the losses of the Great Depression,” as The New York Times intoned. That figure was drawn from a single figure in the U.S. government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment. (Disclosure: I reviewed that report and was the vice chair on the third one, released in 2014.)

Members of Women’s LAX Team Graduate Early Due to NCAA Play

Graduation came early this year for women’s lacrosse players. With the team competing in the NCAA championship game on Commencement Sunday, graduating students missed the regular ceremony. The graduating seniors received their degrees at a special ceremony at the Office of Admission, attended by President Roth, Provost Joyce Jacobsen, family, friends, and faculty on Wednesday, May 22.

The seniors include Caitlin Wood, Emilie Ogden-Fung, Caroline Sgaglione, Amy Breitfeller, Abigail Horst, and Breanna Cavanaugh.

In addition, Nelson Albino, assistant women’s basketball coach, husband of Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach Kim Williams, received a Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) degree during the ceremony. (Photos by Jonas Powell ’18, MA ’19)

Beaumont ’19 a Finalist in Global Eco Competition

Shayna Beaumont ’19, an environmental studies and Hispanic literatures and cultures double major from New York, has been selected as a finalist in Map the System, a global competition that asks participants to research the ecosystem of an issue they care about.

Beaumont ’19 picking coffee at a coffee farm in Costa Rica during a semester abroad.

Shayna Beaumont ’19 picks coffee in Costa Rica during a semester abroad.

Her project, “Food Justice as a Platform for Environmental Equality in Harlem” tackles the issue of food deserts in the neighborhoods of East and Central Harlem in New York City.

“All my life I’ve grown up in food deserts where the unhealthy fast food chains and liquor stores are advertised, instead of healthy eating,” she said in a Coexistdaily blog. “My project is definitely a culmination of life experiences and how environmental studies is a social issue that needs addressing—not only for the white middle- and upperclass people branding the Green Movement, but from the underprivileged black and brown bodies that are victims of the systemic environmental racism that exists to this day.”

Beaumont’s work is supported by the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the Menakka and Essel Bailey ’66 Scholarship.

The competition finals will be held June 7-9 at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, U.K.

Read more about Beaumont in the College of the Environment’s Coexistdaily blog.

Students Study Volcanic Soil, Map Historic Footprints in Hawai’i as Part of Their Senior Capstone Projects

 Left to right: Tim Ku (faculty), Celeste Smith, Jacqueline Buskop, John Sheffer, Ryan Nelson, Sara Wallace-Lee, Kelly Lam, and Phil Resor (faculty) at a newly formed black sand beach on Hawaii. The rocks on the left solidified in 2018.

At left, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Tim Ku, Celeste Smith ’19, Jacqueline Buskop ’19, John Sheffer ’19, Ryan Nelson ’19, Sara Wallace-Lee ’19, Kelly Lam ’19, and Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Phil Resor visit a newly formed black sand beach on Hawai’i. The rocks on the left solidified in 2018.

Six students majoring in earth and environmental sciences who said “aloha” to Hawai’i in January have completed their senior capstone project.

Seniors Jackie Buskop, John Sheffer, Kelly Lam, Sara Wallace-Lee, Ryan Nelson, and Celeste Smith traveled to the Big Island of Hawai’i Jan. 8-15 to conduct original, field-based research projects. They were accompanied by Associate Professors of Earth and Environmental Sciences Tim Ku and Phil Resor.

Prior to the trip, all six students enrolled in the fall semester course Senior Seminar E&ES 497, where they used the primary scientific literature to create hypothesis-driven research proposals. After collecting data in Hawai’i, the students enrolled in E&ES 498, where they analyzed and interpreted their data, and summarized their projects in journal article–style reports. On April 7, the students presented their results in short talks at the E&ES colloquium.

“Through this capstone sequence, students learn to develop and execute a research project from the initial idea through the planning, field collection, and data interpretation stages, and finally, how to synthesize this work into an illuminating presentation and written report,” Ku said. “We hope this capstone experience helps students transition to independent, professional scientists.”

Buskop, Sheffer, and Smith teamed up to work on a project titled “Inferences from 3D Modeling and Field Measurements of Human Footprints of the Ka’u Ash Desert (Kilauea, Hawai’i).”