FWT — Naima and Roi in Sri Lanka

(from Naima Starkloff and Roi Ankori-Karlinsky)

Naima measuring tree diameter

We spent FWT in the hills of Sri Lanka investigating the conservation potential of Home Gardens. This agroforestry method, used in Sri Lanka for several thousand years (yep, several thousand) mimics the structure and composition of natural forest but combines it with crops, fruit trees, etc. It’s managed by human beings, from the species selected to desired growth rates. Naima’s research (for her senior thesis, with Kerry Woods) looked at bird diversity within these forests in comparison with eucalyptus plantations (another human-managed habitat) and a preserved natural habitat. Roi did a more focused study on one bird species, the endemic and endangered Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon.

We got up with the sun and counted birds for an hour each morning. We spent the afternoons measuring trees, assessing canopy structure, and fending off cobwebs. We both had to memorize and recognize 82 different bird calls.  We ate lots of curry, hiked through some of the most beautiful tropical forests Roi had ever seen (ok, he’s never been to the tropics before), and did a lot of data entry in the mosquito-heavy evenings.

Naima’s project explores the potential for using bird diversity as an assay to measure conservation potential in human forests such as home gardens and Eucalyptus-Pine plantations, as well as in native-mixed deciduous forests. More specifically, she is testing the hypothesis that habitat/canopy complexity is a driver of avian diversity across these habitats.  Spring semester will involve analyzing these data for her senior thesis; look for it in the library, as well as in a Science Workshop presentation in May! You can read more about Naima’s work now on her tumblr.

Roi on a hot tea break in a foggy Eucalyptus-pine forest

Under the tutelage of Nireka Weeratunge, Roi played “catch the pigeon” in the afternoons. Normally a forest bird, the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon also enjoys anthropogenic goods. It loves the home-garden’s buffet of tea trees, cinnamon leaves, fresh pepper, and the canopy cover provided by the mango trees.  Roi confirmed two nesting pairs and suspected a third, and found a nest with an egg on top of a mango tree.  Though rare and fragile, the Wood Pigeon seems to like the home-garden atmosphere, suggesting  a potential role for home-gardens in protecting this Sri Lankan endemic species. Look out for a presentation by Roi on his FWT in the first couple weeks of term!


Genetics students publish paper in Journal of Student Research

jur figure

The protein-protein interaction network generated from data collected by students in Amie McClellan’s Genetics course. The figure is from the student co-authored paper just published in The Journal of Student Research.

Science courses at Bennington College are known for providing meaningful laboratory experiences involving original student research. Amie McClellan’s Fall 2013 Genetics students got to take this one step further – their term-long research project was just published in the Journal of Student Research. The students performed a genome-wide genetic screen to determine what genes, if any, were required for yeast to grow in the presence of sodium dodecyl sulfate, an anionic detergent commonly used both in science laboratories and commercial cleaning and cleansing products, such as shampoo and toothpaste. Over the course of the term, the students identified candidate deletion strains, conducted thorough re-testing for sensitivity, performed bioinformatic analyses of their data, and designed experiments to test their findings.The resulting manuscript, which is freely available through open access, can be found here: McClellan et al JSR 2015,  or via this  link.

Congratulations to all of the student co-authors: Laura M. Ammons, Logan R. Bingham, Sarah Callery, Elizabeth Corley, Katherine A. Crowe, Jennifer K. Lipton, Carlos A. Mendez, Tessalyn Morrison, and Claudia Rallis.