Eagle Hill Masthead
ANB Masthead

The Northeast Natural History Conference 2022 was a great success. Thank you to all who helped organize and participated!

We are already getting ready for next year's conference. We are still finalizing the details, but tentatively are hoping it will be back in Burlington, VT, on April 21–23, 2023. So set aside those dates, and contact us if you wish to be added to our email list for updates once we have the details confirmed or would like to be involved in conference planning. Organizing sessions, work shops, and field trips as well as joining our program committee are all great ways to get involved. We are also looking for judges for next year's student poster awards.

And speaking of those awards, here are this year's outstanding student posters:

First Place

Undergraduate Graduate

Adi Shmerling, Julianna Bauer, Kayla Lewis, Eleanor Ruhlin, and Samantha Teixeira (Wheaton College)

Co-authors: Jessie Knowlton and Erin Wilson Rankin

Abundance, Morphometrics, and Diet Diversity of Invasive Praying Mantids in Southeastern Massachusetts

Abstract - Praying mantises are generalist predators and are typically ambush hunters, utilizing cryptic coloration and behavior to remain undetected until the last second. In Massachusetts, there are no native praying mantises, but 2 invasive mantid species have become widespread due to both intentional and unintentional introductions: Tenodera sinensis (Chinese Mantis), native to Asia, and Mantis religiosa (European Mantis), native to Eurasia and Africa. Invasive generalist arthropod predators such as these can be major drivers of disruptions to local food webs and declines in native species, including important pollinators such as butterflies and bees. We surveyed and collected 300 mantises in a series of old fields in southeastern Massachusetts from July to October of 2021. We measured and dissected collected mantises and used DNA barcoding to determine prey taxa. We will link the species, morphometrics, and prey items of the mantids to the local and landscape characteristics of the fields where they were collected. We hypothesized that both T. sinensis and M. religiosa body size, abundance, maturity rate, and diet diversity would be greater in old fields that have higher plant species diversity and in larger old fields that are closer to other suitable habitat. Understanding the impacts of invasive organisms on native food webs, including how habitat and landscape-level variables shape trophic interactions, is crucial to determining how invaded ecosystems operate over both short and long time scales. By assessing these interactions and linking them to multi-scale variables, we hope to develop strategies to minimize the impact of invasive arthropods in local habitats and protect important native arthropod species.

[Click on image to download full-size pdf]

Anna Soccorsi

Cardiac Response of Carcinus maenas and Cancer irroratus under Acute Hypoxia Exposure

Abstract - Natural and anthropogenic sources of limiting nutrients paired with increasing duration and temperature of the summer season in Maine have contributed to a rise in documented hypoxia. Decapod crustaceans are negatively affected by coastal hypoxia from reduced physiological adaptations which may be species specific in crabs. In a laboratory setting, I surgically implanced wires beneath the carapce of Cancer irroratus (Atlantic Rock Crab) and Carcinus maenas (European Green Crab) speciments. I connected crabs to electrodes that measured heart rate, and exposed them to a control normoxic, hypoxic and recovering normoxic treatment. Heart rates of individual crab species significantly differed when exposed to hypoxic oxygen concentrations. Under hypoxia treatments, Rock Crabs were more negatively affected compared to Green Crabs,suggesting that Green Crabs may have better physiological adaptations to deal with lowered oxygen concentrations than Rock Crabs. One such adaptation is the cardioarterial hemolymph regulation within the decapod crustacean body that may increase flow to the appendages, increasing the crab’s ability to move away from hypoxic regions. Changes in coastal Maine benthic ecosystems may occur when mobile organisms flee hypoxic conditions, increasing the potential for a change in food webs.

[Click on image to download full-size pdf]

Second Place

Undergraduate Graduate

Hannah Wait (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts)

Co-author: Daniel Shustack

Breeding Habitat Use During Migration by Junco hyemalis (Dark-eyed Junco) in Western Massachusetts

Abstract - Junco hyemalis (Dark-eyed Junco) are observed year-round in many parts of Berkshire County in western Massachusetts, and the degree to which these are the same or different individuals throughout the year is part of our ongoing research efforts. Our prior work has demonstrated that juncos from various latitudes north of Berkshire County pass through lower-elevation (~210m) valley locations during fall and spring migration, and that juncos from as far as northern Canada overwinter in the valleys of Berkshire County. However, the use by migratory juncos of higher-elevation sites (>500 m), where juncos breed in the summer, is unknown. During spring migration 2021, we sampled Dark-eyed Juncos from 2 known breeding locations. The “Frost” site is at 518 m elevation and has juncos year-round. There, supplemental food (e.g., bird feeders) is available fall through spring. The “Fire Tower” site is at 760 m. There, juncos breed, but do not overwinter, and there is no supplemental food. We used deuterium ratios from the most distal secondary feather of juncos to assess migration behavior of individuals captured at the Fire Tower site (n = 10) and the Frost site (n = 43). During spring migration, junco densities at the Fire Tower were much lower than at the Frost site. At the Fire Tower, the deuterium values from all 10 sampled individuals matched deuterium values of the local breeding population. Additionally, 6 of 10 sampled individuals were observed during the subsequent breeding season (e.g., June and July) at the Fire Tower site. In contrast, ~37% (16 of 43) of the Dark-eyed Juncos sampled at Frost had isotopic values that aligned with the local breeding population, meaning >60% of the spring juncos at the Frost site were migrants. Both local breeders and migrants were detected across the spring migration period (March 25 through April 30) at the Frost site. Migration is a significant part of the annual cycle of migratory birds, and is influenced by many complex factors. A more nuanced and complete understanding of migratory behavior in specific populations of Dark-eyed Juncos is important in fully understanding this declining species.

[Click on image to download full-size pdf]

Molly Heit (SUNY ESF)

Co-authors: Nina Baldwin, Tom Horton, and Bill Powell

Assessing Soils in Central New York for Resistant Ectomycorrhizal Fungal Propagules Compatible with the American Chestnut Tree

Abstract - Castanea dentata (American Chestnut) trees grew in the Syracuse area prior to the arrival of chestnut blight fungus. A major restoration effort is underway at SUNY-ESF which has yielded blight-tolerant chestnuts. Further, we have shown that ectomycorrhizal fungi compatible with Amercian Chestnut remain available in forest soils in the area, likely because many of these species are also part of the mycorrhizal fungus community associated with Quercus rubra (Northern Red Oak) and Fagus grandifolia (American Beech), which continue to populate Central New York. In this growth chamber study, we investigated whether some of these fungi produce a resistant spore bank that can serve as mycorrhizal inoculum in future chestnut-restoration efforts. We grew pure American Chestnut in soils collected from 4 forest sites near Syracuse, NY. In late May and early June 2021, before mycorrhizal networks become active for the year, we collected 3 soil samples from 5 random locations in each forest stand for a total of 60 soil samples, then pooled them by site into 5 sources of inoculum. To reduce the effect of viable hyphae and select for resistant propagules (spores and sclerotia), soils were dried and stored at room temperature for 3 weeks prior to planting. We then planted American Chestnut seeds in a 1:1:1 ratio of soil inoculum:perlite:sand, including 4 additional controls planted in sterilized soil to detect contaminating inoculum. Seedlings were grown at room temperature with 12 hours of artificial light per day. We harvested seedlings after 9 months and washed the roots for viewing under a dissecting microscope to determine percent colonization by mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizal root tips were morphologically typed (morphotyped) to assess species richness and diversity. Of the 30 non-control seedlings harvested to date, all had formed mycorrhizal associations. One morphotype was also observed on control seedlings. Control seedlings had less root growth and were markedly smaller than seedlings grown in non-sterilized soils. We will extract DNA from each morphotype and use the sequence of the fungal barcode (nrITS region) to identify fungal species. We have shown that using field soils is an efficient and effective way to inoculate seedlings with locally adapted mycorrhizal fungi.

[Click on image to download full-size pdf]

Third Place

Undergraduate Graduate

Chase Wojtowecz (SUNY Plattsburgh)

Co-author: Luke Bricetti, Nana Ankrah, and Danielle Garneau

Assessing Plethodon cinereus (Red-backed Salamander) Skin Microbiome Differences Across Northern New York

Abstract -The role of global climate change in increasing the prevalence of amphibian disease, including chytridiomycosis, is well known. The skin microbiome is considered an important component of the amphibian immune system. Specific bacterial taxa and high skin microbial diversity are factors that are known to boost amphibian disease resistance. In this study, we explored the impact of environmental conditions on Plethodon cinereus (Red-backed Salamander) skin microbial abundance and diversity
at a variety of different sites in New York’s North Country. We surveyed P. cinereus specimens from 5 sites varying in elevation
and dominant vegetation type. Salamander skin microbiomes were subsequently sampled via sterile swab, plated and characterized by visual inspection of colony morphology. We performed DNA extractions and PCR to prepare samples for genetic sequencing to determine bacterial species identity. In total, 31 unique bacterial taxa were collected from the 5 sites. The highest and lowest bacterial diversity were observed at the Paul Smiths’ Visitor Interpretive Center’s Forest Ecosystem Research and Demonstration Area (FERDA) sites single tree and control silviculture stands, respectively. Beta diversity tests also indicated that the skin microbial communities at these 2 sites were most similar to each other and noticeably different from that of the Altona Flat Rock and Rugar Woods sites. These results indicate that site conditions are important determinants of P. cinereus skin microbial community diversity patterns. Although the identity of bacterial species (pathogenic, non-pathogenic) are yet to be confirmed, this study has added support to the concept that environmental conditions alter salamander skin microbiomes, which in turn can influence salamander disease resistance.

[Click on image to download full-size pdf]

Erika Griggs(Western Connecticut State University)

Co-authors: Michelle Monette, Lucas Savoy, Christopher Persico, Nina Schoch, and David Evers

An Evaluation of Blood Heat-shock Proteins as Biomarkers of Stress in Common Loons

Abstract - Heat-shock proteins (HSPs) are chaperone proteins that are detectable in wild avian red blood cells (RBCs). Among HSPs, HSP70 can be used as a biomarker of cellular stress, which is of particular interest in wild species, as HSP70 levels do not appear to fluctuate as rapidly as hormone levels during capture events. In recent years, Gavia immer (Common Loon) has experienced a southward expansion from their northeastern range, into areas that could present a variety of environmental pressures and anthropogenic stresses to loons. Previous research has been done to evaluate biomarkers to specific physical and chemical stressors; however, little is known about cellular stress in these birds. In this study, we tested the hypotheses that HSP70 is detectable in Common Loon RBCs, is correlated with other blood biomarkers of stress previously identified in this species, and is correlated to circulating heavy metal concentrations. During June to September 2021, we captured and sampled a total of 79 adult and hatch-year Common Loons from breeding populations in New York, Massachusetts, and Maine. Through Western Immunoblotting, we determined that HSP70 is present in the blood cells of Common Loons, and that expression levels vary between individuals. However, HSP70 abundance was not correlated to sex, age, and sampling location. The abundance of HSP70 was correlated with hematocrit and total cellular protein, but not with heterophil/lymphocyte ratios. We also found that heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and mercury were detectable in the whole blood samples of Common Loons, but that there was no correlation between metal concentrations in blood and HSP70 abundance. Together, our results show that HSP70 is present in the red blood cells of Common Loons, and that its abundance may be correlated with other blood parameters. This study is the first to describe a method to measure HSP70 in the blood cells of Common Loons, which has the potential to aid in evaluating how stress may affect physical condition in loons from other regions or other wild waterbird species.

[Click on image to download full-size pdf]


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