As the recipient of the 2009 Semester in Environmental Science Faculty Fellowship, Dan Ardia, an evolutionary biologist and assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Franklin & Marshall College will spend his sabbatical next fall at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., exploring whether efforts to restore natural grasslands are improving the health of rare or threatened species on Martha’s Vineyard.
“Martha’s Vineyard has sandplain habitats that are home to distinctive ecological communities. Unfortunately, many have been lost over the years because of development,” Ardia said.
Ardia and a team at the Marine Biological Laboratory will study the effects of habitat restoration on birds, mammals and insects. The restoration is done either by clearing the land, including cutting down the trees that were planted there, or through prescribed burning.
Ardia has published extensively on the relationship between environmental factors and physiological health of bird populations. Applying methods commonly used on birds, he has developed ways to measure stores of fat content, blood-protein levels and immune status to evaluate the health of mammals and insects.
Physiological assessments of animal health can reveal the stress on a species that may not be apparent looking only at animal population, Ardia explained.
“We want to see how well the animal populations that we find there respond to this re-establishment of their natural habitat,” Ardia said.
The fellowship provides a stipend of $25,000. The Davis Educational Foundation sponsors the fellowship.
Recently, Ardia and Peter A. Fields, associate professor of biology, led 12 students into the rainforest in Belize on a 10-day trip during spring break.
The student spent five days designing and performing experiments in the forest. The team also spent three days studying marine life in the coastal waters of Belize.
“Biology wasn’t the only thing they saw,” Ardia added. Belize is a cultural melting pot of native central American, European and Caribbean influences. “The students intersected with a diverse group of people,” Ardia said. “This trip not only broadened their horizons biologically, but culturally.”