Students at Lafayette have the opportunity to engage with faculty members in collaborative research projects on environmental topics.
The following are brief descriptions of some recent student projects.
Caroline Bottega ’19, an Environmental Science major with a focus in restoration ecology, completed an honors thesis under the guidance of Professors Megan Rothenberger, Dru Germanoski, and John Wilson. The objective of her interdisciplinary research is to characterize environmental benefits and assess risks associated with removal of small dams along Bushkill Creek, a tributary to Delaware River. Her methods and results can be applied to stream restoration projects in other similar systems.
Jenna and Professor Andrea Armstrong partnered with the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (D&L) to implement a trail monitoring system on the Karl Stirner Arts Trail, and to conduct a trail user survey that assessed diversity and inclusion, policy preferences, and trail-related expenditures. Jenna developed statistical models to monitor and estimate trail usage. After a summer of Excel research, Jenna is currently expanding on her work through a dual honors thesis in Environmental Studies and Economics involving an intercept survey about user willingness to pay for the creation, protection, and improvement of riparian buffers along multi-use trails.
Brynn Fuller-Becker is an Excel Scholar working with Professor Andrea Armstrong. Brynn is a double major in Environmental Science and Engineering Studies, and is extending her geographic information systems (GIS) skills with her research that combines aerial imagery analysis, landowner survey data, and water quality conservation behaviors.
Emilie is working on Excel research with Profs Germanoski and Brandes on a project related to the proposed removal of three low-head dams on Bushkill Creek near campus. She is collecting background data on channel morphology and channel bed sedimentology in reaches of the stream near the dams. The data will serve as a baseline for evolving conditions once the dams are removed. This project near campus is a unique opportunity to study channel bed dynamics and associated hydrologic impacts at high resolution in space and time.
Kim Schubert is an Environmental Science major with a concentration in restoration ecology. Kim’s academic interests range from environmental geology to aquatic ecology, and she has participated in a number of environmental field research projects. For example, she has helped to collect legacy sediments behind Bushkill Creek dams for analysis of metal contaminants as part of a pre-dam removal risk assessment effort. She has participated in amphibian conservation research by monitoring vernal pools, temporary forested wetlands that provide critical breeding habitat for 56% of amphibians in the northeastern USA, and by collecting data on terrestrial salamanders to assess their use by park managers as bioindicators of forest health. She has also been active in the student environmental organizations LEAP and SEES, and is currently leading in a pilot study of methods to reduce bird strikes at Skillman library while also surveying the campus community to assess perceptions about bird mortality and building aesthetics.
Esra is a Biology major with a strong interest in ecology and conservation. For her honors thesis in Biology, Esra is working with Prof. Rothenberger on a project related to the proposed removal of three low-head dams on Bushkill Creek. Her specific objective is to monitor the abundance, diversity, and distribution of freshwater mussels prior to dam removals. Although dam removal is generally considered an important stream restoration method, improperly planned dam removals can irreparably harm freshwater mussels, many of which are threatened with extinction, by burying them with fine-grained sediments. Esra will also conduct toxicity assays to assess the possible effects of heavy metals in released legacy sediments on survival and behavior of mussels. This research will provide useful information for dam removal management and baseline data for comparison with long-term post-monitoring studies.
Emily Lynch, a Biology major with an Environmental Science minor, is using terrestrial salamanders as bioindicators of forest habitat fragmentation in a nearby protected area. Bioindicator species are used by conservation biologists to screen the overall health of an ecosystem, and they can be especially useful when conservation decisions need to be made quickly and with limited resources. The specific objective of Emily’s honors thesis research with Prof. Rothenberger is to compare abundance and distribution of plethodontid salamanders at two forested sites within Jacobsburg State Park with differing levels of habitat fragmentation and to evaluate the sensitivity of plethodontids to microhabitat changes related to forest fragmentation.
Andie Mitchell, a double major in Environmental Studies and International Affairs, is completing an honors thesis in environmental studies about the relationship between seed saving and food justice. She became interested in seed policy and agricultural practices while studying abroad in Tanzania, India, and Italy. Her research focuses on farmer agency in crop choice and how preserving biodiversity in agriculture impacts food security. Andie’s thesis is also built in relation to her experience working at LaFarm and through leadership of LaSeed, the college’s seed library.
Emily Ramirez is a is a Biology major with an Environmental Science minor who is working as an Excel Scholar for Prof. Rothenberger to pick up where Karolina Vera’s research left off (see above). Karolina’s research revealed that, although natural and created pools were similar in terms of their hydrology, water chemistry, surrounding vegetation, canopy cover, land use, and soil type, breeding of frogs was between five and 25 times greater in natural pools. This important finding seems to indicate that vernal pool creation as a mitigation option should only be used as a last resort when elimination of natural pools is unavoidable. However, stochastic natural events in late winter and early spring 2017 led to an overall delay in the migration, mating and breeding timeline of vernal-pool breeding amphibians. Therefore, Emily Ramirez will continue monitoring and measurements for another year and include additional environmental parameters, such as predator abundance and pool slope, that may help to explain the preference of the wood frog for natural pools.
Juliana is a Biology major with an Environmental Science minor, and her honors thesis research under the mentorship of Profs. Rothenberger and Armstrong integrates conservation biology and environmental social science. Juliana is studying two aquatic invasive species (AIS), the Chinese mitten crab and Asian shore crab, in the Hudson-Raritan estuary (HRE) of New York and New Jersey. Because these invaders have destroyed biodiversity and economic infrastructures in other coastal marine ecosystems where they have been introduced, their relatively recent discovery in the HRE is a serious concern, especially for anglers. Juliana’s research can contribute to a more successful management plan through improved monitoring efforts, a survey of commercial crabbers to gather updated abundance and distribution information, and development of a centralized database.
As a chemical engineering and environmental science double major, Rachel’s honors thesis sought to explore the impacts of chemicals on ecosystem health. More specifically, Rachel assessed the ecotoxicity of glycerol derived compounds, a new class of biologically-derived molecules. During her thesis she worked with Professor Lindsay Soh to develop an algae based ecotoxicity screening method and apply this method to test the impact of chemical exposure.
Jacob Strock, an Environmental Science major with a focus in aquatic ecosystems, completed an honors thesis focused on feeding and growth variation of alewife and blueback herring, two species of fish threatened by habitat loss, overfishing and pollution. Identifying predictors of growth and behavioral response has implications for how species health and recruitment may be affected by climate or other environmental change.
As an Environmental Science major with a focus in restoration ecology, Karolina’s honors thesis addresses an important gap in amphibian conservation ecology by examining the success of local habitat restoration efforts for vernal pool-breeding amphibians. Vernal pools are seasonal bodies of standing water that provide vital breeding habitat for 45% of amphibian species in northeastern North America. For her thesis, Karolina worked with Profs. Rothenberger and Germanoski to compare various environmental parameters among natural, created, and restored vernal pools in order to determine how created and restored pools compare with natural pools in their ability to support vernal-pool breeding amphibians.
Jospeph studied small farm infrastructure as a way to meet the needs of Lafayette’s Sustainable Food Loop and the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act. Specifically, he examined the economics, design, and implementation plans for packinghouses and greenhouses. The EXCEL research consisted of hands-on work at LaFarm, site visits to other small farms, literature review, and field interviews with USDA cooperative extension personnel and other small-scale infrastructure design experts. Faculty Advisor: Cohen
Matthew studied the origins of manufactured food through an investigation of pure food debates in the later 1800s. Those debates led to the founding of the FDA and followed from radical changes in agricultural production and distribution. His EXCEL research focused on mapping the growth of new commodities in the era, analyzing legislation about adulterated (contaminated) foods, and creating GIS maps to visualize the expanding range of food distribution before 1906. Faculty Advisor: Cohen
Alexa, Andrea and Rachel worked with Easton’s West Ward Neighborhood Partnership to study the ways increased access to fresh vegetables in the West Ward could improve community interaction and public health. Their field work enhanced the 2013 Tech Clinic project on the Veggie Van into a broader 10-week Vegetables in the Community (ViC) project. That shift involved cultivating produce on a 40′ x 40′ plot at LaFarm; organizing weekly pick-up and packing of over two tons of produce from eight community gardens and farms for ten weekly distribution nights in the West Ward; and producing a working guide to help build ViC into a sustainable community-based project within three years. Faculty Advisor: Cohen
Under the guidance of Professor Julia Nicodemus, these students sought to improve the Lafayette College community with respect to sustainable initiatives. Specifically, they focused on campus recycling and acceded that it would be a complex, real-world, and multidisciplinary challenge. Faculty Advisor: Nicodemus