2023 Summer Research Fellows Zoom Program

photograph of a small lake surrounded by trees

Zoom Program (link below)

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

7:00 p.m.

Each summer, the Kelly Adirondack Center funds student summer fellowships focused on furthering our understanding of the complex relationships between nature and society.  The goal of the Summer Research Fellows Program is to support students doing scholarly work under the guidance of faculty sponsors. By sharing their work through a Zoom program each fall, we further our mission of engaging the campus community and the wider public in this important conversation.

This year we sponsored a wide variety of student projects:

Bird Songs

Alicia Cynamon and Aspen Morris

Our research explored the roles of conservation and birdsong in the practice of soundscape composition. We spent several weeks travelling around Schenectady and the greater area collecting field recordings of local sites and their birds. We then compiled and edited these recordings into a personal database of unique sounds, from which we derived two compositions. Our works are long-form, experimental pieces that address the conservation of bird species from different vantages and are each entwined with our own creative voices.

Lyme Disease

Bennett Beaulieu

Lyme disease, discovered in 1977, has emerged as a significant concern for both ecologists and the public. The bacterial infection, primarily spread by Borrelia burgdorferi (occasionally Borrelia mayonii) through infected Ixodes scapularis ticks on the eastern coast of the United States, leads to over 400,000 annual cases within the United States, and is often misdiagnosed. Lyme disease in humans is difficult to detect, due to its discreet host and rapid spread. It commonly initiates as a rash, pain, fatigue, and progresses to severe issues if untreated. Thus, through our research, we aim to develop a safe, effective vaccine using outer membrane vesicles (OMVs), avoiding previous pitfalls of traditional weakened bacteria-based vaccines and triggering protective immune responses. Our goal this summer was to produce our B. burgdorferi outer membrane protein of choice, BB0405, to be used as our future vaccine antigen. Our findings suggest that the protein is being cleaved upon production, an unexpected result that will require further examination.

Black Locust Removal in the Albany Pine Bush

Johanna DiCerbo

The Albany Pine Bush is a globally rare pine barren that is currently being overtaken by the invasive black locust tree species. Black locust threatens the natural biodiversity of the habitat, and so there are efforts to remove this species from the Pine Bush. Unfortunately, previous research has shown that soil nutrients are significantly altered after black locust removal, which can slow the re-establishment of native species. So, my research is investigating whether nutrient loss occurs because of soil mixing during restoration. We collected soil cores from the Albany Pine Bush in six different locations before and after tree removal, and analyzed them for soil carbon and nitrogen content. We found that the soil samples before restoration had higher concentrations of carbon and nitrogen in the top layer of soil, whereas after restoration there were no significant differences in the amount of nutrients in the different layers of soil. This result supports our hypothesis that tree removal has the unintended consequence of altering soil chemistry and, potentially, slowing recovery. Identifying restoration methods that minimize soil disturbances is a possible avenue moving forward. We encourage preventative methods rather than restorative methods in keeping the Pine Barren unaffected by black locust.

Analyzing Street Tree Diversity Due to Redlining Districts in Schenectady and Niskayuna

Allie Malatesta

Street trees are a very important part of a neighborhood’s ecosystem, providing substantial benefits to the surrounding area, from shade and habitats to slower-driving cars and decreased crime. Furthermore, they reflect a cities’ investment into a neighborhood due to planting and upkeep costs. However, in certain neighborhoods there has historically been less investment and tree planting as a result of redlining, a governmental financial program in the 1930s that targeted communities of color. Wealthy, typically white neighborhoods received an A-grade rating (most loan-secure), while poorer neighborhoods received lower ratings (B-D) making it harder for occupants to access financial resources. This also resulted in already impoverished communities experiencing restricted access to the ecosystem benefits that street trees provide. This summer, I analyzed differences in tree growth and composition in Schenectady neighborhoods to document the effects of institutionalized racism through this practice. We observed differences in tree size and species composition. D-grade (“redlined”) neighborhoods and C-grade neighborhoods compared to B-grade neighborhoods had significantly less available sites for trees, as well as fewer trees in all size classes (small,
medium, and large).There were not enough replications of A-grade neighborhoods within current Schenectady city limits, and therefore these values ended up being insignificant in our results. In relation to species, D-grade neighborhoods had lower diversity in three different tests compared to the B- and C-grade neighborhoods. These results indicate that there is a correlation between neighborhoods’ historical redlining status and their current ecology, which reflects continued environmental injustice.