TIE Fellows 2016-2017

Eric Scott Ph.D. Candidate, Biology “A Tipping Point in the Effects of Herbivore Density on the Chemistry and Sensory Quality of Tea (Camilla sinensis)"

Eric Scott
Ph.D. Candidate, Biology

A Tipping Point in the Effects of Herbivore Density on the Chemistry and Sensory Quality of Tea (Camilla sinensis)

Oriental Beauty tea (Dōngfāng měirén) can only be produced using leaves from tea plants (Camellia sinensis) that have been attacked by the tea green leafhopper.  Attack by leafhoppers induces defenses in tea plants including an increase in volatile compounds that contribute to the finished tea’s unique flavor.  Farmers in Fujian Province, China, report that low leafhopper damage leads to a bitter tea lacking this characteristic flavor, and that very high leafhopper damage also leads to a low quality, bitter tea.  I conducted both observational and manipulative experiments to 1) identify compounds in tea that correlate with both quality and leafhopper damage and 2) to determine the effect of leafhopper density on the metabolome of tea leaves.  For the observational experiment, each morning that tea was harvested for two weeks I estimated leafhopper density and collected both fresh and finished tea.  For the manipulative experiment, I placed different densities of leafhoppers on branches of tea plants in mesh bags for 5 days.  At the end of 5 days I sampled volatiles with direct contact sorption and collected young leaves. Chemical analysis of samples including GC-GC/MS and LC-MS are ongoing.

Emma Schneider Ph.D. Candidate, English “Listening to Survive: Cultivating Storylisteners in North American Environmental Justice Literature”

Emma Schneider
Ph.D. Candidate, English

Listening for Justice: Cultivating Listeners in North American Environmental Justice Literature

Emma studies Environmental Literature and Environmental Justice, focusing on contemporary North American novels and poetry. Her dissertation responds to the frequent calls for speaking out in Environmental Justice activism by beginning with the question: Who is listening? Emma’s work explores this question by integrating Sound, Literary, and Environmental Studies to consider how listening and environmental soundscapes are portrayed in literature and how literature’s imaginative environments provide opportunities for thinking beyond current ways of engaging with the environment. Rather than noting that someone does not have a voice, this listening framework asks why a voice isn’t heard. Emma’s dissertation, Listening for Justice, argues that environmental literature challenges the conventions that dictate how and to whom they listen. Emma builds her research on the work of Native American thinkers such as Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan, and Robin Wall Kimmerer as well as from sonic scholars such as acoustic ecologist R. Murray Schafer and sensory historian Mark Smith. She analyzes listening’s representation in relation to pressing environmental issues such as animal ethics, environmental racism, surface mining, and the theft and violation of Native lands and sacred sites. In addition to her dissertation research, Emma is deeply interested in promoting environmental literacy through place-based pedagogy and collaborating across disciplines toward this goal.

TIE Fellow 2016-2017 Headshot_Fanous, Jamie

Jamie Fanous
M.A. Candidate, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning; &
M.S. Candidate, Agriculture, Food, and the Environment

Measuring the Effectiveness of Biochar on Agricultural Practices in Rwanda

Jamie has been studying biochar and how it can serve as and effective method for improving soil fertility and crop yield in developing countries. Over the past three months Jamie has been working with the Gardens for Health International (GHI) agriculture team in Rwanda to implement an trial to test the effectiveness of biochar. Over the next several months the GHI agriculture team will collect measurements of soil quality and crop growth of the trial crops. Jamie will begin to synthesize data and work to determine if biochar can be produced and used by sustenance farmers in Rwanda.

TIE Fellow 2016-2017 Headshot_Yanco, Etsy

Esty Yanco
M.S. Candidate
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Tracking the ecological restoration of a newly implemented Wildlife Friendly Alliance near Cobar, New South Wales, Australia

With the recent adoption of carbon farming to offset carbon emissions, pastoral landholders in rural Cobar, New South Wales, Australia, have expressed a desire to explore new management practices that aim to improve agricultural production and biodiversity by ending lethal control of wildlife. With the implementation of the new Wildlife Friendly Alliance (WFA), restoration of top-down species management by recolonized dingo packs can drastically improve the damaged ecosystem while simultaneously providing economic and social advantages to the farmers participating in the program. The WFA aims to address pressing conservation issues with a One Health lens by providing solutions to lethal farming management that will improve the livelihoods of both wildlife and farmers, while restoring the shared natural landscape.

Joining the University of Technology Sydney’s Centre for Compassionate Conservation (CfCC) team, I have been traveling to the field site to gather data on population, disease, and stress indices of the existing wildlife. The results of these wildlife surveys will be compiled into baseline datasets used to monitor both animal welfare and the restoration of the local ecology. Evidence of ecological improvement using this data as a reference will contribute to the central goal of the WFA: to promote environmental stewardship that will protect the needs of wildlife, ecosystem, and humans alike.

Katherine Kurth M.S. Candidate at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Katherine Kurth
M.S. Candidate
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

The Rains Down in Africa

Lions (Panthera leo) are essential apex predators in their ecosystem but are facing some of the most severe population declines of all carnivores. Humans and the environment (e.g., climate change) are the greatest threats to lions. Research shows climate change is already affecting Botswana. A consequence of climate change is shifting precipitation patterns. Rainfall variations, from droughts to floods, deplete livestock, increase food insecurity for humans, and may increase land sharing by lions and humans. Previous research has shown that lions move closer to human settlements during increased rainfall. When wildlife such as lions live close to humans, competition for resources arises creating human-lion conflict.

Katherine’s research examines lion movements in relation to precipitation in and around the study area of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, Botswana. The hypothesis that lion movement towards settlements increases during rain due to increased vegetation is being tested. This study analyzes whether lion behavior changes with different rainfall and vegetation densities. Researching the link between precipitation, vegetation, and lion movement may allow for better prediction of lion behavior. Understanding this relationship is necessary to anticipate how lion behavior will shift as the climate changes and as lions near human settlements. Accurate prediction of lion movement has the potential to reduce human-lion conflict.

Prity Bengani-Lutz

Prity Bengani-Lutz
Ph.D. Candidate
Chemical and Biological Engineering

Application of Novel Membranes to Surface Water Treatment

Prity is studying the performance of novel membranes for the treatment of surface water. Membranes are a key technology for drinking water treatment from natural sources such as surface and ground water. Some of the main drawbacks of commercial membranes include low flow rate, incomplete removal of organic pollutants, and membrane fouling caused by components in the feed, which lead to high capital and energy costs. Most commercial membranes have pore sizes that are too large, offering incomplete removal of organics and high fouling, or pore sizes that are too small that have to operate at high pressures. Currently available commercial membranes also suffer from fouling, the clogging of the filter due to feed components. Our membranes have high fluxes, ~1nm pore size ideal for potentially removing most critical contaminants at lower pressures, and are very fouling resistant to protein and oil emulsions. We would like to determine if improved organic removal occurs with our membranes, and if fouling resistance observed with protein solutions also applies to single foulants and complex mixtures of surface water components. We have tested the performance of our membranes by filtering single foulant solutions and measured both fouling resistance and removal of problematic organic compounds from feed such as alginate, humic acid, and bovine serum albumin. We will test various complex mixtures of surface water feed prepared in lab and/or obtained from local sources and perform further membrane characterization studies as well as water quality analysis.

Caitlin Matthews
M.A. Candidate, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning; &
M.S. Candidate, Agriculture, Food, and the Environment

Food Security, Regional Self Reliance, and Climate Resilience in the Department of La Paz, Bolivia

The U.N.’s “Zero Hunger” Sustainable Development Goal and Bolivia’s constitutional right to food present the multifaceted challenge to increase agricultural production and food security while improving sustainability, climate resilience, and food sovereignty. Caitlin’s thesis focuses on the potential for regional self reliance for items in the basic food basket and the role of public policies in promoting regional self reliance for improved food security, rural livelihoods, and climate resilience in the Department of La Paz.

Distinct patterns of agricultural production in eastern and western of Bolivia – with large-scale, mechanized, agro-industrial commodities and beef production in the eastern lowlands and small-scale, family agriculture in the western highlands – mean that agricultural policies are not uniformly applicable to nor equally beneficial in all production systems. Located in western Bolivia, the Department of La Paz presents an interesting case study with respect to both agricultural production and public policy. The department has great ecological diversity, including almost all major Bolivian ecosystem types, and its smallholder and indigenous produce a wide variety of crops and livestock products; however, there are many barriers to connecting the rural producers to large urban centers. Caitlin has conducted interviews with professionals from academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies in La Paz, and is developing three data and spatial models related to agricultural production, food consumption, and vulnerability to climate change.

David Krucik
M.S., Conservation Medicine; &
DVM Candidate, Veterinary Medicine

Validation of gene transcription assays as measures of immunocompetence in juvenile gray seals.

This project will collect biological samples from weaned gray seal pups from the Northwest Atlantic population to validate gene transcription assays as measures of immunocompetence and share health and disease data with the Northwest Atlantic Seal Research Consortium, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Wildlife Disease Cooperative, and other wildlife, environmental, and human health research and management groups. In conjunction with accomplishing these goals, this study will also afford multiple students opportunities to train in both field and laboratory methods. The results of this study will advance knowledge of gray seal health, with contributions to improving individual clinical care and population-level conservation work. The results will also contribute to the knowledge of of gray seals population health and their relevance as sentinel species for the marine ecosystem of the Northwest Atlantic. Sentinel species are vital to the understanding of environmental health. This work aims to provide another comprehensive method for measuring the health of this sentinel species thereby creating a necessary tool for long term collaborative, interdisciplinary environmental health research.