Student-Led Research Projects
Unity College undergraduate research students, in addition to presenting at the Student Conference, also show their work at local and national conferences.
Rae-Ann MacLellan-Hurd : Why is the pond green?
Unity pond is plagued by algal blooms in the summer months. Nutrient loading of phosphorous and nitrogen is a key factor leading to the blooms. The goal of this project is to quantify the inputs of these nutrients focusing on phosphorous, the key limiting factor, to make more informed decisions to address the algal bloom problem. Water samples, sediment samples, and soil samples have been taken to build a model of inputs of phosphorous into Lake Winnecook. The samples are used to determine values for runoff, tributary inputs, and sediment water interface reactions. The samples along with GIS modeling will create an input balance model of phosphorous. This will be used to determine which input areas remediation should focus on. Sediments samples were taken once a month through the years from five locations to determine if release of phosphorous from the sediment was occurring. Water samples were taken at depth to coincide with the sediment samples. Water samples were taken at all the tributaries along with discharge measurements to determine concentrations of water entering the pond. Soils samples were taken to determine concentrations of phosphorous likely to enter the water though runoff. All of the data will be compiled into a dynamic systems model for future use.
Greg LeClair : Threatened Wood Turtle Monitoring and Habitat Mapping Study
Starting in 2015, students Trina Wantman, Natalie Peters, Chris McGovern, and Gregory LeClair, and their advisors Dr. Cheryl Frederick and Dr. Matthew Chatfield, partnered with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) to begin surveying streams local to Unity for the globally endangered Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta). Wood turtles are threatened by habitat loss, mortality from vehicles, and illegal collection for the pet trade. The first documented Wood Turtle in Unity for several decades was discovered by this group in Spring 2016. Starting in summer 2017, Gregory LeClair will be pursuing his thesis project of monitoring Wood Turtles and mapping habitat with radio-telemetry for his senior thesis. Information gained from these projects will be provided to MDIFW in order to reevaluate their state status as a species of concern. This may result in better management and conservation of the Wood Turtle in order to ensure its long-term survival.
Greg LeClair : Reptile and Amphibian Monitoring Study (RAMS)
Gregory LeClair and Dr. Matthew Chatfield began a herpetoligcal monitoring program throughout the Unity area in the Fall of 2014. The study has since acquired Natalie Peters and Trina Wantman to assist in leading the project’s research. The project consists of three major arrays of 15 “cover boards”; metal, plastic, or wooden sheets used as sources of heat and cover by local herp species. The study seeks to determine impacts of habitat fragmentation and environmental conditions on land use by herps. Snakes, salamanders, and frogs captured under the boards are also subject to data collection to further determine correlations of certain demographics with land use. The study has successfully observed habitat use by several hundred Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis), Red-belly Snakes (Storeria occipitomaculata), Blue Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma laterale), Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum), and Leopard Frogs (Lithobates pipiens). It has also served as a launching pad for Natalie Peters’s Garter Snake mark-recapture study started in summer 2016.
Jennifer Meineke : The Unity College Squirrel Study
The Unity College Squirrel Study is an ongoing student driven project researching a population of American red squirrels in the Unity College Woodlot. Four senior thesis projects have been based off the Squirrel Study on topics covering kleptoparasitism, alarm call acoustics, population density, and home range size. A currently ongoing thesis project is focused on red squirrel microhabitat use. This project is helping Unity College students gain real world experience using radio telemetry, handheld GPS units, trail cameras, and trapping and handling small mammals. In 2016 the Unity College Squirrel Study team presented a poster at the Wildlife Society National Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. This poster presentation went on to win the Honorable Mention Award for Undergraduate Student Posters at the conference. Further information about the work that was done on this poster can be found on the Wildlife Society website.
Sierra Sico: Differential habitat use, foraging and activity patterns of southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) in logged and unlogged forests in Maine.
With the guidance of advisors Dr. Jennifer Clarke and Dr. Aimee Phillippi, Wildlife Biology major Sierra Sico and her field crew (Tenzin Jampa, Kevin Richards and Anthony Holzhauser) have been using trail cameras to measure flying squirrel activity in logged and unlogged forests in Maine to determine how logging impacts this species. Additionally, using microscopy, Sierra is discovering which fungus (mushroom) species are consumed by the flying squirrels over winter by identifying fungal spores in fecal samples. Lastly, Sierra and her crew will be examining the trail camera data to investigate how moonlight affects activity patterns of the flying squirrels. The information collected in this study will be added to the limited research on flying squirrels in Maine and will be submitted for publication.
Lauren Souther: Antibacterial activity of local seaweeds
Lauren Souther, a senior in the Wildlife Biology Program, is currently testing the antibacterial activity of compounds extracted from endophytes of local seaweeds. Endophytes are fungi that live within the tissues of plants, and all endophytes produce biologically active secondary compounds. Many extracts from terrestrial endophytes have pharmaceutical or agricultural applications, though marine endophytes have not been widely studied. The results of this study will reveal the potential uses of local macroalgae and express the importance of biodiversity in marine ecosystems.
Kaitlyn Nafziger : The Influences of Soil Properties on Leach’s Storm-Petrel
For her senior thesis Kaitlyn Nafziger studied the influences of soil properties on Leach’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanodrama leucorhoa) burrow morphology. In some island ecosystems burrowing seabirds are the only source of bioturbation within the soil due to a lack of mammals, however little is known about the influences on the size and dimensions of their burrows. Kaitlyn measured the length, height, and width of Leach’s Storm-Petrel burrows on Eastern Egg Rock Island, Maine and collected soil samples from each, and then looked for relationships between burrow volume and dimensions, and soil properties such as texture and wet and dry bulk densities.
Georgia Male : The Behavior of Red Eared Sliders
Georgia Male, a sophomore in the Captive Wildlife Care and Education Program, advised by Cheryl Frederick, initiated an observational research project through the Project Assistant course, to record and examine the behavior of Red Eared Sliders (Trachemys Scripta elegans) throughout modifications in their habitat within the Unity College Animal Room. Not only is this project useful in assisting in the captive management practices of this species, it is also an opportunity to gain valuable experience in systematic data collection, application of statistical analysis, and qualitative and quantitative aspects of behavioral observations. The observations lasted approximately six weeks and Georgia is in the process of producing a paper to present her findings.
Rae-Ann MacLellan-Hurd and Stephanie Tardiff : Phosphorous and Nitrogen in Unity Pond
Rae-Ann MacLellan-Hurd and Stephanie Tardiff with advisors Dr. Kevin Spigel and Dr. James Killarney are working on a project testing the levels of phosphorous and nitrogen and how phosphorous is bound within the sediment of Unity Pond (a.k.a. Lake Winnecook). Unity Pond has a history of algae blooms that are possibly linked to the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen with in the water column. By testing the sediment, they will determine if more phosphorous is likely to be released into the water column that could lead to more algae blooms in the future.
Jordan Zitnay and Megan Brown: Ants and Climate Change
During the summer and fall of 2015 the students will work with faculty from Unity College, Harvard University, and the University of Vermont, to intensively sample ants in forested habitats between 44.5 and 45.5 °N latitude to: (1) more accurately determine the northern range limit of the ant genus Aphaenogaster in New England; and (2) to test whether populations at their northern range limit have limited capacity to resist or repair thermal damage, as indicated by gene expression of heat-shock proteins when ants are heat-stressed. During the summer, the students will: learn field ant-collecting skills and how to identify and differentiate among the species of Aphaenogaster; sample ants and collect colonies in Maine; assess thermal tolerance of workers from Aphaenogaster colonies; and analyze the data and write the work up for publication.
Zachary Mann : Land Snails and the Impact of Logging on Diversity
Zachary Mann presented his research project at the Northeastern Natural History Conference in April. The purpose of this study was to determine how logging in eastern hemlock forests change microclimate conditions and land snail richness and abundance. Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) forests throughout Maine are threatened by hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), an introduced insect pest. This study concludes that logging in hemlock forests could lead to changes in microclimates that significantly alter land snail communities, which includes local extirpations of species occurring in low abundance. It also reveals that more surveys of Maine’s land snails are necessary to update current distribution knowledge.
Elizabeth Orcutt : The Impact of Logging on Hemlock Ecosystems
For three years at Unity College, Elizabeth Orcutt studied the impact of logging on hemlock ecosystems. For her senior thesis she chose to study the impacts of logging on biodiversity of ground beetles. Ground beetles are important biological indicators for ecosystem stability, and she focused on species shifts. Elizabeth found that logging impacts the presence of certain functional beetle groups and thus has larger ecosystem implications.Her research was presented at the Northeastern Natural History conference in Springfield, Massachusetts.