Student Research Projects 2018-19

Research Methods for Ecosystem Science: Instructor Dr. Stacy Lynn, GTA Sara Simonson

Student Research Project Abstracts:

Tamera Breidenbach

Citizen science studies in Yellowstone National Park increase pollinator species diversity records

Mentors, Sarah Whipple, Dr. Gillian Bowser

This presentation stems from research completed by the Pollinator Hotshots within Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 2017. Through a grant focused on student engagement in citizen science research, information was gathered on pollinators in various National Parks. Student citizen scientists from around the world were given introductory, intensive training to conduct field research, collect data, and identify pollinators. Student scientists set up transects in various locations to find pollinator species utilizing a citizen science platform (iNaturalist) to input data sets and photography. My research focused on assessing whether the student citizen scientists were useful in tracking functional pollinator groups, such as bees and butterflies, so that reputable species lists could be returned to the parks for climate change policy and protection management strategies. Previously collected data from the National Park Species List database (https://irma.nps.gov/NPSpecies/Search/SpeciesList/YELL) allowed for comparative analysis of the data collected from the Pollinator Hotshots group.

Valeria Cintora

Evapotranspiration and climate analysis of different ecoregions               

Mentors, Dr. Dennis Ojima, Dr. Darin Shulte

In this project, we looked at precipitation (ppt) and evapotranspiration (ET) data from three distinct ecological regions in the United States; the Southern Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains- Palouse Dry Steppe Province, and the Great Plains Steppe Province. Using this data, we asked the question, “How do evapotranspiration rates respond to precipitation rates across different ecosystems?” Answering this question could later help with predicting drought patterns in the US. All of our raw data was collected using Climate Engine from the year 2003 until 2017. Precipitation data was collected from gridMet, and evapotranspiration data was from the Operational simplified surface energy balance model (SSEBop). Analysis of evapotranspiration included correlations between ppt and ET during the years and over the growing season. Analysis of ecosystem responses to climate change associated with evapotranspiration fluxes in different regions could predict how ecosystems in the future will handle changing water availability caused by climate.

Andrea Fairfield

Restoration of polluted watersheds: Using ArcGIS to map transboundary water policies

Mentors, Dr. Jill Baron, Dr. Randall Boone

Surface and groundwaters of the Nooksack-Fraser Transboundary region are contaminated with high nitrate concentrations, harming industries and drinking water. Agricultural inputs (e.g., dairy, berry, and poultry farms) from the region’s growing population are the main culprit. The Nooksack, WA, and Fraser, B.C., rivers connect via groundwater which drains into a polluted Portage Bay, harming the livelihood of the Lummi Nation. Water quality management policies and practices differ greatly between Canada and the US. My research maps policies to determine how these policies may influence nitrate movement across the region. My project is part of a larger effort to provide a scientific basis for management. I expect international and national governments to design numerous generalized policies, while local policies will address more specific issues. Eventually, these maps will be linked with spatially distributed nitrogen budget to identify policies that contribute to, or ameliorate, water nitrogen pollution.

Will Gnesda

Developing community perceptions of hydrogeology in Simanjiro, Tanzania

Mentor, Dr. Stacy Lynn, NSF-IRES program

Local hydrology in Simanjiro, Tanzania may best be understood in spatial contexts through native communities. Participatory mapping of ground and surface water regimes can develop understandings of historical exploitation of water resources and be instrumental in recognizing consumption patterns. Data collection will include focus group participatory mapping exercises in conjunction with a preferential ranking system of groundwater wells. An analysis will be completed through ArcGIS using a correlative accuracy assessment to compare distance, direction, and area to the true values of well locations, water flow paths, and subterranean aquifer descriptions. Preferential well qualities will be analyzed based on a ranking system ordered and weighted by most sought after well qualities. Results derived from this study will conclude in the form of a report to be provided to communities in Tanzania so that they may better understand the complex relationships between people and water in a changing world.

DaQuan Jewell

Go-Pro camera technology in pollinator surveys

Mentor, Dr. Gillian Bowser

Pollination is a vital, yet undervalued ecosystem service. For that reason, research on pollinator behavior is important. This experiment was designed to test how useful technology can be in pollinator surveys. I set up a Go-Pro camera outside the Denver Botanical Gardens to test how useful technology is in detecting pollinators at two different time scales. I used the time-lapse video setting on the Go-Pro to test the ability of the equipment to detect pollinators. The result of the experiment did not support my initial hypothesis, that there would be a major difference in pollinators detected in the afternoon than in the morning. While there were more overall observations in the afternoon, the detection ratio between what the go-pro captured and the human observations were consistent in the morning and afternoon.

Sammi Mahoney

Community perceptions of wildlife and livestock population cycling drivers in Tanzania

Mentor, Dr. Stacy Lynn, NSF-IRES program

In Tanzania’s environment, there are many drivers that could affect wildlife and livestock population cycling over space and time. Population drivers can act as either a positive or negative force on in a species’ population size. The species that will be investigated include lions, elephants, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, Cape buffalo, impala, and porcupine. This study involves was a review of the published literature, as well as a field study to conduct semi-structured individual interviews with community members. Interview questions will be based on perceived drivers of population change, the locations where species are commonly observed to be present, and observations of how close the species come to people, their livestock, and human settlements. I will then cross reference the field research results with findings form the published literature to determine agreements between the two.

Denna Martinez

Evaluating data sets to predict future snow melt in the western United States

Mentor, Caroline Duncan

In Colorado, snow is a contributor to how much water supply could be available for the year. Research has found that dust layers on snow can affect the timing of the melt rate of snow. For my research, I am looking at two types of datasets: the Colorado Dust-On-Snow (CODOS) archive and the Natural Resource Conservation Service SNOTEL dataset. The SNOTEL dataset is an automated meteorological collection that is focused on a larger area, while the CODOS dataset is an automated meteorological collection that focuses on a specific area. One difference between these datasets is the CODOS dataset collects radiation while SNOTEL does not. Within these datasets I am going through and helping to reformat and evaluate them to be used for a model that will be created. With these results, a physically based model will be created to help predict the timing of melt rates of snow.

Brian Orth

Shifts in stream nutrient limitations of periphyton aquatic communities following wildfire

Mentor, Allie Rhea

The Hayman fire has led to water quality degradation within burned watersheds.  Almost 16 years post fire, water quality of these burnt watersheds continues to maintain high levels of nitrogen, but why?  With the management of water quality partly subject to lotic biological activity we’ve asked the question, “How does nutrient limitation of periphyton growth differ between burned and unburned streams?”  To measure this, we used nutrient diffusing substrates (NDS) to create point sources of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), carbon (C) and different combinations of the three within the streams of interest.   After the NDS incubated in the stream for 20 days, we measured NDS for abundance of autotrophs and heterotrophs.  We hypothesized that periphyton growth would shift from N-limitation in unburned streams to P-limitation in burned streams. These results can lead us closer to understanding that the lack of water quality recovery may be related to periphyton nutrient limitations.

Spencer Rhea

Water access and governance in East African pastoral communities

Mentor, Dr. Stacy Lynn, NSF-IRES program

Pastoral communities in dryland environments often experience water scarcity due to drought, poverty, and lack of surface water. My research will examine factors that contribute to lack of access to potable water of pastoral households in north-west Tanzania. I will examine how poverty, distance to water sources, collection methods, water development projects, and other factors affect pastoralists’ access to potable water. To assess these factors, I will conduct between 7 and 15 semi-structured interviews with women of two pastoral communities in Tanzania. This research will be valuable in determining the elements that prevent pastoralists from accessing potable water. The results could also call attention for greater water governance or development in pastoral communities, if this is seen as a major impediment to accessing water.

Emily Sinkular

Socio-ecological changes in mountain systems

Mentor, Dr. Jessica Thorn

The goal of this research is to understand the impact of climate change on social-ecological changes in mountain systems, in Kenya, Tibet and Switzerland. I sought to answer the questions, “In what ways can understandings of current changes reveal benefits of and planning for 2050 in mountain systems? What is the role of local knowledge, research, policies, and governance?” Data involved a variety of contributors and sources. First, an in-depth literature review was conducted. Summaries of these articles translated into summary tables of the regions. Second, statistical analysis was performed on results of Mountain Sentinels, an international research network survey conducted in these regions. From this, I found educational programs and social developments that support the interests of stakeholders were more beneficial than big picture policies. Furthermore, I found land use changes impacts quality of ecosystem services. These findings could support the creation of policy development guided by stakeholder input.

Makenna Smith

The barriers between Tanzanians and potable water

Mentor, Dr. Stacy Lynn, NSF-IRES program

Tanzanians are in a water crisis due to climate variability, poverty, and population growth. While money has been invested in water development, there has been little improvement. My proposed project is to determine the physical, economical, labor, and other barriers between Tanzanians and potable water, to aid developers in developing water in a more constructive way. To do this, I will determine the water quality of surface, ground, and potable water in Sukuro and Kitiengare, Africa. I will conduct focus groups to understand the Massaii’s views on water and barriers to it. Finally, I will compare water quality standards of the United States with the water quality data I collect in Tanzania, to quantify the water quality crisis in Tanzania. These results could document a holistic view of the water problem from the Massaii’s viewpoint, which could lead to a better understanding of the barriers between Tanzanians and potable water.

Amanda Spidel

Ectomycorrhizal fungi colonization in a Rocky Mountain forest

Mentors, Bethany Avera, Shabana Hoosien

Our research examines ectomycorrhizal colonization and correlation with resilience after disturbance, from a forest where regeneration is not occurring after pile burns. The study was conducted in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, along the Front Range of Northern Colorado. Twenty-two randomly selected clearcut units were sampled from areas that were burned in the years 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000. Additionally, twenty-two randomly selected burn piles were sampled for the 10 year chronosquences. The soil was used to determine if regeneration could be obtained in a greenhouse environment. Two hundred and twenty lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) seedlings were grown in the soil samples, roots were put underneath microscopes to look for ectomycorrhizal colonization, and biomass was measured. We noticed that both treatments inside and outside of the burn piles had low infection percentages. Our determination was that ectomycorrhizal fungus colonization did not affect succession.

Yanyu Wang

Does a user-friendly greenhouse gas (GHG) prediction tool perform as well as a more complex model (DAYCENT) to predict land-use change?

Dr. Steve Del Grosso, Dr. Catherine Stewart

Models that calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are crucial in estimating US agricultural contributions to GHG. We tested two widely used models: a simplified tool (COMET), and a more complex model (DAYCENT). We compared three outputs: net primary production (NPP), soil carbon change (SOC) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, with measured data under three fertilizer scenarios: Urea, Dairy manure, and control. The COMET tool was evaluated with data collected from irrigated cropping systems in northeastern Colorado from 2012 to 2014. The DAYCENT model also required soil texture and manure type as model inputs. The COMET tool represented reasonably for SOC and NPP. However, it overestimated 25% for NPP, 54% for SOC, and 662% for N2O emissions in dairy manure scenario. DAYCENT also overestimated N2O emissions (141% for fresh manure, and 41% for manure compost). DAYCENT performed better than COMET. We suggest that COMET could be improved by better representing manure types and calculation methods.

Felix Yepa

Comparative detritus soil food web analysis of soil fauna and carbon and nitrogen cycling in the Arctic

Mentors, Dr. John Moore, Dr. Stacy Lynn

With climate change, the Arctic is seeing an increase of a shrub (Betula nana) relative to a sedge (Eriophrium vaginatum). This study assesses changes in the belowground food web in a moist acidic tundra ecosystem located at Toolik Lake, Alaska. I hypothesize that this change will affect the detritus food web model, given that the shrub has lower plant quality relative to the sedge. The study compares functional groups within soil communities within the rooting zones of B. nana and E. vaginatum, and modeled rates of carbon and nitrogen cycling. The model is based on biomass estimates and trophic interaction among functional groups of organisms and detrital resources. We are processing samples to compare biomass estimates with modeling results to understand carbon and nitrogen fluxes. Through this understanding, the detritus food web model contributes to an important societal and environmental goal of predicting responses of tundra ecosystems with environmental change.

 

(NSF-IRES 2016-2017)

Olivia Baxter

People and place in pastoral systems

Mentor, Dr. Stacy Lynn

This study examines how Maasai pastoralist land use and livelihoods have shifted since a similar study was conducted by Dr. Lynn in 2003.  Pastoralism, extensive livestock herding, has persisted as a common use of drylands in East Africa for many centuries. Recently, these systems have faced new stressors including extreme weather and loss of rangeland. In response to changing conditions, Maasai pastoralists in Northern Tanzania have incorporated cultivation into their livelihoods. Semi-structured interviews regarding livelihood and land use were conducted with seven Maasai household heads in Northern Tanzania 2017.  In 2017, all participants reported that they engaged in cultivation in combination with livestock herding.  On average, households in the area cultivate twice as much land as they did in 2003. However, pastoralism may be more resilient to changing climate than cultivation, since livestock can follow available resources. These results could improve understanding of the optimal balance between land use practices in drylands.

Hannah Dresang

Pollinator and Maasai interdependence within the dryland systems of Tanzania

Mentors, Dr. Stacy Lynn, Dr. Moses Nyangito, Dr. Judith Mbau

Pollinator and Maasai interdependence within the dryland systems of Tanzania This research examines the social-ecological relationship of pollinators and pastoralists in Simanjiro, Tanzania. In this study, research objectives centered on defining the significance of pollinators (especially bees) within Maasai pastoralist societies, and the role of pollinator biodiversity in the surrounding dryland community. Six semi-structured interviews, with a Maasai/English interpreter assisting, were conducted with four men and two women who were pollination experts or beekeepers. Questions focused on pollinator knowledge, roles of pollinators, and habitat quality, including ranking of various elements related to habitat. Honey production provides additional family income, supports celebratory traditions, and fulfills certain medicinal needs of the community. Findings of this study help to expand global understanding of pollinator roles in dryland communities. By understanding the significance of pollinators to dryland communities, land managers, including those in pastoralist societies, can be in a better position to implement future management strategies which support pollinators and human values associated with them.

Zion Jones

Sustainability in indigenous communities: Maasai pastoralists

Mentor, Dr. Stacy Lynn

We have entered what scientists call the Anthropocene. This means that human activity influences many issues relating to the Earth. Human use of natural resources is informed by needs, current uses, and intended long term goals.  It is imperative to examine sustainability within the context of local culture, economy, ecology and traditional ecological knowledge.  This research aims to develop the concept of sustainability as expressed by Massai pastoralists of Simanjiro District, Tanzania, and to examine the dynamics of communities regarding traditionally-defined sustainable practices and community-based natural resource management. Semi-formal interviews with gendered structured groups were used to investigate socio-cultural aspects of sustainability. Massai pastoralists’ conceptualization of sustainability is largely related to basic human needs and livelihoods. Gender roles play a large part in conceptualization, management, and implementation of sustainable practices.  A report of this research will be sent back for the communities to use.

Connor McCarty

Severity ranking of problematic plants in Simanjiro, Tanzania

Mentor, Dr. Stacy Lynn

This study focused on problematic plants in Tanzania’s drylands by 1) defining species according to indigenous descriptors, 2) identifying region-specific species, and 3) characterizing their impacts. Ecological disturbances can transport and spread problematic plants. Western classifications of problematic plants include invasive and opportunistic qualities, but local definitions may differ. The implications of problematic species on Maasai social-ecological systems has not been scientifically investigated. Seven focus groups were conducted in two villages of Simanjiro, Tanzania, to develop a comprehensive list of problematic plants, their natural history, and problematic traits. Groups were gender-based and age-inclusive to honor collective wisdom. All species were individually ranked according to their traits’ significance through participatory exercises. Results show a disparity between Western and traditional Maasai conceptualizations of problematic traits. Salience and severity indices were calculated by comparing frequency and average rank of each species, which are reviewed through four case studies: alairahirah, alauuwi, orkiyapore, and oltipilikwa.

Alix Messer

Climate, pastoralism, and land use in Simanjiro, Tanzania

Mentor, Dr. Stacy Lynn

Pastoral land use and relationships to landscapes appear to be changing. I investigate how Maasai pastoralist livestock herders view their land use and its impact on the local land and landscape, as well as on their livelihoods. I analyzed current perceptions in the context of contemporary Maasai lives. The research questions include: 1) How is herding perceived to affect the land? 2) How is cultivation perceived to affect the land? 3) How are livestock perceived to affect cultivation? 4) How is cultivation perceived to affect livestock?  I conducted 7 interviews with herders. Initial results indicate that Maasai pastoralists have adjusted their land use over time in response to technology, and development and increased local human and livestock populations. Herders recognized the mutual benefit between livestock and landscape – livestock consume grass and in turn fertilize the land. They also recognized that cultivation, unlike livestock, absorb the nutrients from the soil, often depleting it for an extended period of time.

Tamera Breidenbach

Citizen science studies in Yellowstone National Park increase pollinator species diversity records

Mentors, Sarah Whipple, Dr. Gillian Bowser

This presentation stems from research completed by the Pollinator Hotshots within Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 2017. Through a grant focused on student engagement in citizen science research, information was gathered on pollinators in various National Parks. Student citizen scientists from around the world were given introductory, intensive training to conduct field research, collect data, and identify pollinators. Student scientists set up transects in various locations to find pollinator species utilizing a citizen science platform (iNaturalist) to input data sets and photography. My research focused on assessing whether the student citizen scientists were useful in tracking functional pollinator groups, such as bees and butterflies, so that reputable species lists could be returned to the parks for climate change policy and protection management strategies. Previously collected data from the National Park Species List database (https://irma.nps.gov/NPSpecies/Search/SpeciesList/YELL) allowed for comparative analysis of the data collected from the Pollinator Hotshots group.