Conservation Biology Official Findings & Government Report

The mission of the United States wildlife refuge system is the conservation, management and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of future generations of Americans.  In compliance with the goals of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Refuge System, college students from the Chincoteague Bay Field Station ( Conservation Biology Class with Millersville University, set out to quantify and document terrestrial vertebrate biodiversity (i.e., mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles) in 3 different forest biological communities (i.e., maritime deciduous, conifer and marsh forests) within Wallops Island NWR along the Eastern Shore of Virginia in Accomack County.  This was part of a service learning effort coupled with a research based course format to increase student professional development and passion for STEM studies in the biological sciences.

Documentation of terrestrial vertebrate biodiversity on Wallop’s Island NWR was conducted via a Rapid Biological Assessment (RBA) or Rapid Assessment Program, which is an efficient and cost-effective method used to complete a quick, biological survey of an area.  The RBA was conducted from 29 June 2015 through 8 July 2015.  Species presence was documented based on simple field observations as well as several trapping methods, including an acoustic recording device, remote video and cameras, pitfall traps and Sherman traps. Each method was specialized for documenting occurrence for specific types of terrestrial vertebrate fauna. The Conservation Biology Class’s first objective was to develop a list of terrestrial vertebrate species present on Wallops Island NWR and the second objective was to compare species survey results between the maritime deciduous, conifer and marsh forest types to determine if there was segregation between species in each forest community.

The Conservation Biology Class documented the presence of 90 terrestrial vertebrate species within Wallops Island NWR and they found 3 new species that had not yet been documented on Wallops Island NWR: short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda), woodland vole (Microtus pinetorum) and American toad (Anaxyrus americanus).  The Conservation Biology class also identified the importance of maintaining and managing the maritime deciduous forest habitat to benefit biodiversity on the Wallops Island NWR and provided baseline population density estimates for small vertebrate species that occur on the refuge.  The Conservation Biology class recommended that further analysis be done to consider any species that could have been missed during their survey period.  For example, seasonal biological assessments should be conducted to observe areas used at the beginning of the breeding season and during migration.

An official government report of this service learning/research-based effort was sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  A copy of this report can be found on the link below.

Final Report to USFWS From CBFS & Millersville University

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Week 3 At The CBFS

The Conservation Biology Class finally finished this week at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station.  Students finished the analysis of their vertebrate survey of Wallops Island National Wildlife.  We are currently putting the final touches to the official report we will submit to the US Fish & Wildlife Service.  In addition, students took a trip to the Nature Conservancy to get an up and close look at the Nature Conservancy’s eel grass beds and bay scallop restoration efforts.  Students also conducted a bird survey of the Chincoteague Bay and took a visit to the Wallops Island beach owned by NASA.

Check out the video links below of the Conservation Biology class in the field.

Atlantic Bay Scallop in Action

A Family of Clapper Rails


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Week 2 at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station (CBFS)

During week 2 at the CBFS, the Conservation Biology Class finished checking their traps and recording data for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  In addition, students conducted a trawling survey for marine biodiversity at the Chincoteague Bay and met with the Nature Conservancy to discuss ecosystem restoration efforts along the Eastern Shore.  We will finish up next week with a number of other great activities.

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Millersville undergraduate biology students attend 46th Annual Meeting of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Biologists

On Friday and Saturday April 10th-11th , 2015, Millersville Biology Faculty Drs. Ryan Wagner, Sharmin Masswood and Aaron Haines were accompanied by Millersville undergraduate biology students to attend the 46th Annual Meeting of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Biologists at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania University Biologists (CPUB) was founded in 1973 as an organization to provide support for the teaching and research activities of faculty in the biological sciences. Every year CPUB provides a forum for graduate and undergraduate students for the presentation of their research.  This year, 10 biology students and 1 Earth Science student from Millersville University attended the Annual CPUB meeting to present their research findings.  In addition, Dr. Ryan Wagner presided over the Conference as he has done during the last 4 years as President of CPUB.  Below is a picture of all Millersville University Faculty that attended and the Undergraduate Research Presenters.

In back from left to right: Dr. Sharmin Masswood, Andrew Lytle, Charissa Mohn, Jennifer Spangler, Amanda Isabella, Angela Fetterolf, Lori Sampsell, Folake Meshe, Joel Hassel, Brendan Cowhey, Dr. Aaron Haines and Hilary Powell.  In Front: Amanda Kato (consumed by Tyrannosaurus Rex) and Dr. Ryan Wagner.

In addition, we had a number of award winners from Millersville University.  Below are Millersville Biology Students who won awards for their Undergraduate Research Projects.

 From Left to Right: Joel Hassell (First Place Poster Presentation for Cell and Molecular session), Jennifer Spengler (First Place Poster Presentation and CPUB outstanding student), Hilary Powell (Second Place Platform Presentation for Cell and Molecular Session), Amanda Kato (Second Place Poster Presentation for Ecology and Evolution Session) and Lori Sampsell (First Place Poster Presentation for Ecology and Evolution Session).

Below is a list of all the students who attended the 46th Annual CPUB Meeting and the titles of the research projects which they presented.

1)      Joel Hassell: Cognitive behavior after Tropisetron treatment in estrogen -primed Female Rats (Faculty Advisor, Dr. Sharmin Masswood) .

2)      Jennifer Spengler: Characterization of two waves of neural crest migration in the Red-Eared Slider Trachemys scripta (Faculty Advisor, Dr. Judy Cebra-Thomas).

3)      Angela Fetterolf: Identification of areas baited for wildlife using chemical analysis (Faculty Advisors, Dr. Aaron Haines and Stephen Kennedy).

4)      Hilary Powell: Investigating Polyphenol Oxidase activity in senescing woody plant species (Faculty Advisor, Dr. Ryan Wagner).

5)      Charissa Mohn: Impacts of Ailanthus altissima leaf pack leachate on Radish (Raphanus sativus) and Wheat (Triticum aestivum) seed germination and seedling growth (Faculty Advisor, Dr. Ryan Wagner).

6)      Bredan Cowhey: Characterizing the venom of ratfish (Faculty Advisors, Dr. James Cosentino and Dr. Dominique Didier).

7)      Andrew Lytle: Evolutionary conserved mechanism of epidermal appendage formation in tooth-like dermal structures of skates (Faculty Advisors, Dr. Judy Cebra-Thomas and Dr. Dominique Didier).

8)      Amanda Kato: Behavioral Analysis of Spodoptera frugiperda in relation to Volatile Chemicals of Ailanthus altissima (Faculty Advisor, Dr. Ryan Wagner).

9)      Amanda Isabella: Radio-telemetry tracking of Phasianus colchicus at Safe Harbor Nature Preserve, Safe Harbor, Pennsylvania: A pilot educational study (Faculty Advisor, Dr. Aaron Haines).

10)  Folake Meshe: Identification of research needs for wildlife law enforcement (Faculty Advisor, Dr. Aaron Haines).

11)  Lori Sampsell:  Reducing anxiety related symptoms in domesticated cats (Faculty Advisor, Dr. Jean Boal).

Next year, Millersville University will be host to the 47th CPUB Annual Meeting.

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Pheasant Tracking Conclusion

We released 6 birds last week. After a week of radio-telemetry, all birds fell victim to birds of prey, most likely hawks and owls based on the remains.  Below is a map showing all the locations.  One bird stayed within 50 yards of the release site for 5 days until predation, and another bird traveled almost a mile away and went all over the preserve for 7 days until predation.  The birds really preferred the edge habitat.  They did not venture very far into the woods and preferred to travel along the thicket cover of the woody edge habitat or along trails in the woods.  Overall, the Millersville University Pheasant Tracking Team, led by Amanda Isabella, did a great job collecting data from these birds and getting the transmitters back.  We may have to restart this effort again in the near future.

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Beginning of Millersville University Pheasant Tracking Project

This is a pilot project where undergraduate students learn ecological principles and field techniques by conducting applied research. Students are responsible for tracking released pheasants at a local wildlife preserve, gathering data on these birds and then analyzing this data. The goal is to determine if applied learning can be conducted as a research project to benefit student success in the STEM fields.  Click below for video.

Millersville Pheasant Project

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Ornithology Trip to Middlecreek Wildlife Management Area

On Saturday Match 7th,  Millersville University Ornithology students took a trip to the Middlecreek Wildlife Management Area run by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  The visitor center had a great collection of bird mounts to peruse and the outside bird feeder had a large number of visitors.  In addition, students got a great look at a rough-legged hawk (photo below by Kira Klassen), a rare winter visitor that breeds in the tundra.

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