Will agriculture survive when the world runs out of phosphorus? How hot is too hot for the mosquito Ochlerotatus japonicus to breed? What can be done to help pink flamingoes get “in the mood?”
Those questions and more were addressed in student research presentations at the 13th annual Calder Summer Undergraduate Research Program (CSUR). The symposium, which was held on Aug. 19 at the William D. Walsh Family Library on the Rose Hill campus, featured 10 presentations by undergraduates who conducted research over the summer under the tutelage of Fordham faculty members.
James D. Lewis, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, presented the keynote speech, “Climate Change: Using the Past to Predict the Future.” Working with a phytotron at Duke University, Lewis measured the effects of carbon dioxide on the growth of cottonwood trees that were deprived of phosphorous.
This is important, he said, because while levels of carbon dioxide—which is critical to plant growth—in the atmosphere are increasing, supplies of phosphorus, which is also necessary, are dwindling.
Although higher carbon dioxide levels led to greater growth in controlled settings, Lewis noted that when lower phosphorous levels were introduced, the size of the plant size decreased.
“Our data suggests that phosphorus will become increasingly limiting to photosynthesis and to leaf area production, and in both of those respects, will affect cottonwood trees,” he said.
So as soil loses its phosphorous content, plants might not respond to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. As a result, a projected jump in agricultural productivity may not happen because of phosphorous limitation.
The program also featured a presentation by Megan Harries, a sophomore at Fordham College Lincoln Center, whose project involved breeding and collecting Ochlerotatus japonicus, an invasive mosquito species that was discovered in the United States in 1998.
Gregory Russo, a junior at Fordham College Rose Hill played samples of bird songa he recorded and categorized while observing Eastern Wood-Pewees in the New York area and Stripe-Throated Wrens in Panama. Whereas Pewees are suboscines (they know songs intuitively from birth), wrens belong to theoscines (they learn to sing from other birds).
Jamelia Frink a senior at Fort Valley State University, explored bird sounds in conjunction with J. Alan Clark, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Fordham. Working with the ornithological staff at the Bronx Zoo, Frink detailed the reactions of 17 pink flamingoes to the sounds of mating calls played during their traditional mating season. The birds living at the zoo are a fairly young group, and have had limited success in breeding.
The experiment was a success, she said, because the flamingoes not only exhibited more head wagging and “double salutes” with their wings—both related to mating—but they increased their egg-laying by 18 days. They hatched more egg compared to last year, and one pair re-layed.
“That’s very significant, because if a bird re-lays earlier, it gives the new chick time to grow and do everything it needs to do before the winter, when they can’t survive,” she said. “For future plans, the Bronx Zoo has installed a speaker system in the flamingo exhibit, where they will be playing T1C, T6 and T7 calls, so that the flamingoes can get some more practice in and, hopefully, have a hand-raised chick.”