Science workshop this friday: Can you fish better than a robot?

fish

Matthew Holden will talk about his research on the management of renewable resources, using fish as an example. Can mathematical models be used to improve the management of fisheries? As a baseline for comparison, we will play an interactive web-game, where you fish a hypothetical sockeye salmon population (so bring your laptops/tablets!). We will discuss the strategies you use and I will demonstrate some of the quantitative tools economists, fishery scientists and mathematicians have developed to maximize revenue and keep a sustainable number of fish in the ocean. How well can you manage the fishery using your intuition compared to a robot using only math? Come to Science Workshop this friday and find out!

Science workshops are fridays from 1 pm – 2 pm in Dickinson 148.

Faculty Research on ecological effects of changing climates

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Old-growth forest at the Dukes Research Natural Area (U.S. Forest Service) in northern Michigan — source of the data-set used in published analyses.

Faculty member Kerry Woods participated in a multi-author study assessing the effects of climate change on forest understory communities in North America and Europe.  Using multi-decade data-sets from 29 research sites analyses show that a general trend of compositional change reflecting increases in warm-adapted species may be moderated where forest canopies have become denser. This work was published online (before print) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science  in a paper titled “Microclimate moderates plant responses to macroclimate warming” (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1311190110).  Woods contributed one of five data-sets from North America; his long-term studies in old-growth forests of northern Michigan have supported several other publications.  Another of the North American data-sets is from Peter White of the University of North Carolina — a Bennington alum from 1971.

This research has been reported by the BBC, on Belgian national news (including a video clip of lead author Pieter de Frenne of University of Ghent — in Dutch), and in press releases from Oxford University and several other universities.

This is our laboratory: Ecology classes study the local landscape

IMG_9975Each year, the introductory ecology and evolution class participates in a multi-year study assessing how the history of agricultural usage and abandonment has affected ecosystem patterns over our local lanscape –  once almost entirely cleared and now over 80% forested. In addition to conducting quantitative vegetation sampling, we ‘read’ stories told by stone walls, soil properties, and remnant trees like this white oak, whose growth form indicates that it was well-established when this site was still an open pasture.

Class excursions also explore the rich diversity of habitats and communities found within a short van-trip from the College, including sub-alpine forests near the summits of surrounding mountain ranges (here, Mt. Greylock in the Taconic Mts., the highest point in

Ecology class in the lab - at the summit of Mt. Greylock

Ecology class in the lab – at the summit of Mt. Greylock

Massachusetts).

 

Work by Carlos Mendez (’15) Published in JBC

jbc coverCarlos Mendez (’15), an undergraduate who has been working in the lab of Professor Amie McClellan, is co-author on a just-published paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The paper, A Biochemical Analysis Linking APOBEC3A to Disparate HIV-1 Restriction and Skin Cancer, describes work examining the pH-dependence and regulation of human deoxycytidine deaminase (Apo3A) and, as described in the abstract, provides insight into “an alternative molecular basis for the initiation events in skin cancer”

This research was performed in the laboratory of Professor Myron Goodman of the University of Southern California Department of Chemistry. Carlos contributed to the work during his first Field Work Term position and last summer. He will also be giving a Science Workshop presentation on September 20th. Don’t miss it.

Scenes from the Fall Poster Session

The hallways of Dickinson were abuzz with science students and faculty, along with friends and supporters from across the College, on Friday December 7 for the Fall Term Poster Session. The building was a hive of activity as students discussed their work, asked questions, and generally enjoyed the challenge of substantively engaging with each other and the broader community about their projects.

Faculty member David Edelman talks to students Katie Giarra and Marilee Goad about the Animal Physiology poster “The Effects of Serotonin on Aggression in Subordinate Crayfish” (photo: Julia Evanczuk)

Roughly thirty posters were presented by students from Physics I, Comparative Animal Physiology, and Foundations of Physical Science. These courses range from introductory to advanced levels and the nature of the work reflected this diversity, featuring experiments of students’ own design, literature reviews, laboratory measurements of physical phenomena, and investigations of alternative energy possibilities for the campus and beyond. Selections of posters from each class will be posted on this site in the near future.

Top: Emily Mikucki (’13) discusses her poster “Fitness Consequences Associated with Variation in Developmental Temperature in Cabbage Butterflies” with dance and environmental studies student, Kaya Lovestrand (’14). (photo: Betsy Sherman)
Middle: (left) Chemistry faculty member Janet Foley asks Evan Braun (’13) about his animal physiology research; (right) Evan’s poster “Survey of Worker Ant Plasticity as Mediated by Classical Conditioning” is displayed along with his subject ants in the foreground (both photos: Julia Evanczuk)
Middle: Caroline Barnhart (postbac ’13) describes her work on the impact resistance and force transmission of different helmet designs (photo: Julia Evanczuk)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several students gave demonstrations to help explain or place their work in context. For example, Carl Johanson (below) arranged for a  live performance from Lance, a five-year old American Cream horse, a nearly extinct breed of draft horse, for his demonstration of “Horsepower, the Other Way of Getting Energy from Biomass.”

Foundations of Physical Science student Carl Johanson (’14) introduces Lance, an American Cream draft horse, to onlookers as part of his presentation on animal power. (photo: Mike Goldin)

 

Biology faculty member Amie McClellan discusses recent work from her lab with Computing faculty member Andrew Cencini and others. (photo: Betsy Sherman)

Honorary student (and actual faculty member) Amie McClellan, enjoying the last full week of her sabbatical, also presented a poster as a sort of trial run for her upcoming presentation “EMC2 Encodes a Putative Novel Hsp90 Co-chaperone in Saccharomyces cerevisiae“, co-authored with Tambu Kudze (’10), at the 2012 Annual Meeting of The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) in San Francisco, CA.

photo: Mike Goldin

 

 

Finally, good food made the event even more enjoyable. Faculty and staff brought in homemade breads and dishes such as Vegetable Lo Mein and Beef Vindaloo, as well as delicious desserts for all to enjoy.

 

The view from the second floor. (photo: Mike Goldin)

Science Workshop: Evolution of a research question

Dr. Betsy Sherman will discuss her ongoing research on phenotypic variation among red-spotted newts. Newts are significant predators in freshwater communities and their presence affects the assemblage of organisms that also live in these communities. Newts are not yet regarded as threatened, but Sherman’s work has revealed that temperature, pH, and disease affect newt physiology, behavior, and development and may well have larger implications for amphibian conservation and diversity. Sherman will also discuss how physiological ecologists develop their research questions. Science workshop is on Friday, Nov. 2, from 1:00-2:00 pm in Dickinson 225.  All are welcome.

Science Workshop: Dr. David Edelman

Join us for a discussion about the scientific study of consciousness by Dr. David Edelman, new Bennington faculty member in Biology and Neuroscience.

The Biology of Consciousness

The octopus and parrot: Defining the frontiers of consciousness.

What does it mean to be conscious? Do we have a reasonable definition of consciousness that can be applied broadly to both humans and seemingly sentient non-human animals? Is it possible to study consciousness in animals that can’t tell us what they are experiencing?

 

 

 

Conscious experience seems quite tangible to us. Yet, consciousness in humans has only recently become a legitimate object of scientific study. Moreover, to date, no systematic investigations of consciousness in non-human animals have been undertaken. But now, advances in functional neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and genetics offer the possibility of exploring consciousness substantively and systematically in non-human mammals, birds, and, conceivably, other species as well.

During this discussion, Dr. Edelman will provide a broadly applicable working definition for consciousness. Then, he’ll describe the known properties and correlates of conscious experience as they have been identified in human subjects and provide a plausible evolutionary scenario for the appearance of consciousness in a variety of phyla. Finally, he’ll discuss his recent work with the octopus and offer an experimental framework for the investigation of consciousness in both vertebrates and some invertebrates.

 

Autumnal Delights

October in Vermont. When the mountains are ablaze with vibrant colors, there’s a chill in the air, and leaves crunch underfoot.

In Dickinson Hall, there’s another seasonal pleasure. Every year at this time, students in Betsy Sherman‘s Comparative Animal Physiology class dissect cats to explore firsthand the connection between form and function of physiological systems. This week students focused on the circulatory system, considering how the function of the heart and blood vessels can be inferred by close inspection of their structure. Prior to this, students examined the digestive and musculoskeletal systems, and will soon turn their attention to the nervous system.

As the term progresses students will design and execute their own research projects. In previous years students pursued topics such as the relationship between hatching asynchrony, development and temperature in moths, does mass affect exertion and time to exhaust in salamanders, the effect of temperature on hemolymph coagulation in crayfish, and the effect of nicotine on regeneration in planaria. This year students will present their results at a poster session on December 7 in Science Workshop.

 

Science Workshop: Dr. Elizabeth Leininger

Evolution of neural circuits for vocal behavior in Xenopus: How my frogs got their simple calls

Dr. Elizabeth Leininger (Columbia University) will discuss how African clawed frogs (Xenopus) coordinate social interactions via species-specific underwater calls. She addressed this question in species of Xenopus that make slow, simplified advertisement (male fertility) calls. These simple calls are also the rarest type in the genus, and evolved more than once from a more complex call type. How did this occur? Using recordings from the brain and larynx, she found that two of these species (X. borealis and X. boumbaensis) make their simple calls via different modifications of the vocal circuit. She will also discuss how features of the muscle within the Xenopus vocal organ can promote differences in call rapidity across the sexes and species.

Please join us in Dickinson 225, Friday at 1:00. As always, delicious finger foods will be served.

No newts is bad newts!

In March 2012, Biologist Betsy Sherman and alumna Katie Van Munster (’08) published a paper entitled, Pond pH, acid tolerance and water preference in newts of Vermont, in the journal Northeastern Naturalist. The red-spotted newt is found in both acidic ponds (pH values of ~4) from the Green Mountains and more alkaline ponds of the Taconic Mountains (pH values of ~8). Newts from the high and low pH ponds exhibited different behavioral and physiological reponses to water of different pH. The research revealed that newts have adapted to acidic conditions that are due, in part, to human activity.  Sherman and her students continue to study whether these adaptations are due to divergent evolution among the different populations of newts.  A short description of this work was also published in the popular conservation magazine, Northern Woodlands. Click on the image below to see the article.