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Student News

After a record warm winter in New England, spring has arrived early and many EEES grad students are beginning local fieldwork. Here are just a few examples of local projects going on in Spring 2016.

 

DebFieldwork

Second year graduate student Debora Goedert collects wood frogs from a small pond in Mink Brook with a little help from field assistant Banjo the dog. Deb is an evolutionary biologist interested in variation in morphology and behavior between individuals and populations, and how traits may vary across life stages (pre and post metamorphosis). Deb brings these frogs back to the lab in the LSC to take measurements, photographs, and record their jumping performance.

 

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Second year graduate student Andy Vacca and first year graduate student Animakshi Bhushan collect dragonfly larvae from a freshwater stream in nearby Lyme, NH. Again, Banjo the dog provides valuable field assistance! Andy is an environmental toxicologist, interested in how mercury, a trace metal contaminant, moves through aquatic and terrestrial foodwebs. He plans on rearing these dragonfly larvae in the lab and beginning some experimental trials with them this spring.

 

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After a mostly snow-free winter, we welcome a little bit of winter weather in April! First year graduate student Ashley Lang examines an Ash tree near Concord, NH with damage from an invasive insect, the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).  Ashley is interested in the ecosystem level consequences of insect pests on forest nutrient cycling and belowground microbial and invertebrate communities.

giraffegrass_smallBy Michael Butler Brown

The mathematical inequality statement is seemingly simple: (16 feet of giraffe) > (4 feet of grass).  Under this premise, it’s easy to imagine that locating groups of giraffe in the open grassy savannas might be a relatively straightforward task…but occasionally giraffe behaviour trumps rudimentary mathematical representations. It was mid-afternoon during  the second day of our seasonal giraffe surveys of Murchison Falls National Park and as we bounced along the dusty game track, we saw what appeared to be a lone giraffe standing in an area of open savanna. I pulled my Nikon Monarch binoculars to my eyes and as I glassed the apparently solo adult female, several other giraffes in repose gracefully lifted their heads above the swards to reveal a group of Rothschild’s giraffe in what – moments before- appeared to be a silent sea of grass.

The Rothschild’s giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi) is among the most endangered of the giraffe subspecies, with fewer than 2,000 individuals scattered across isolated populations in Kenya and Uganda. The largest population, found in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, has recently exhibited some very interesting trends. Following a period of civil unrest in the region that ended nearly two decades ago, the giraffe population in Murchison Falls National Park has grown remarkably and now contains roughly two-thirds of all known wild Rothschild’s giraffe. These population-level trends run contrary to the many of the other giraffe populations throughout Africa, which data suggest have declined dramatically over the same timeframe.

Dartmouth College, The Giraffe Conservation Foundation and the Uganda Wildlife Authority are working together to understand the factors that might contribute to these population dynamics. Like Grevy’s zebra, giraffe have unique coat patterns that almost act as a name tag and allow us to track unique individuals over space and time. With digital photographs and pattern recognition software, we can accurately assess survival and reproduction as well as map out changing spatial distribution over time. Combining these methods with other giraffe movement studies, we hope to better understand the complex relationships that giraffe have with this fascinating ecosystem, examining how changes in ecological interactions can influence individual giraffe behaviour and giraffe population dynamics. ​