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Cary Institute students present their findings

On August 15 the 12 students in this year’s Cary Institute’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program presented the results of the research they conducted during the ten weeks they spent at the Institute this summer. The program, under the guidance of Dr. Alan Berkowitz for the past 27 years, is the largest REU program in the United States, attracting college and university students from all around the country.

Working under the guidance of a mentor, each participant crafted a project, carried out the research, and analyzed the data before presenting his or her findings in both a paper and a 15-minute talk at the symposium. In addition to their ten weeks of research, students were taught what Dr. William Schlesinger, the recently retired president of the Institute, called “translational ecology.” The goal is to describe the results of research in a way that people in the nonscientific world can understand. Done successfully, this creates a bridge from scientists to the public and decision makers.

Two students studied mosquitoes. Two studied birds. Several others studied wetlands, riparian zones and the Hudson River itself. Others focused on the way people perceived nature: the progress of elementary-school children who studied decomposition at the Institute’s summer ecology camp; the reactions of high-school and college students working as volunteers at the Hudson River Eel Watch project in Poughkeepsie; the way people feel about earthworms. Having always been told worms are beneficial, they find it hard to accept that they are in fact an exotic species imported from Europe and Asia that is harming our northern forests.

My favorite presentation was by Williams College student Julie Jung, who described her project, “Consider the Chipmunk.” It seems these little creatures depend on the alarm calls of birds like tufted titmice and chickadees to warn of the approach of predators. Because the noise from roads makes it harder to hear the birds’ warning, chipmunks become more wary and stop foraging much sooner that they would in the silence of the woods.

Jung’s research revealed that 80 percent of the United States lies within one kilometer of a road.

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