Symposium spotlights summer science

From birds to bees, researchers in the NPS follow our flora and fauna
Rachel Bolus from UMASS/Amherst presents her study on the Cape's Common Yellowthroats. Variations in song, size, and coloration in different populations of this small songbird suggest patterns of origin and interaction. The Cape's yellowthroat population

The National Park Service (NPS) capped off a season of summer research with its second annual public science symposium August 28. Ten researchers presented work performed under the auspices of the NPS Atlantic Research Center, based at the former North Truro Air Force Station, now owned by the park service and called The Highlands Center.

Park by Science

In 1999, the park service looked to the 21st century by incorporating science into its parks' missions and creating a national network of Research Learning Centers (RLCs), including the one in Truro. Last year, the National Seashore began looking for ways to better share the wide range of work happening within its boundaries and hit up a public symposium as a means of sharing.

On a gray humid late summer afternoon the last Tuesday of August, some 60 people showed up in a narrow classroom housed in former military barracks to be part of that very sharing effort. In its second outing, the event drew not only researchers and their friends & family, but also a substantial corps of citizen-scientists and a handful the scientifically curious.

Despite their somewhat word-larded journal titles (Geographic variation of song and plumage of the Common Yellowthroat) the talks provided an intriguing snapshot of the seashore and our human attempts to understand the dynamics of its flora and fauna.

So, without further ado, here's this reporter's retitled reworking of the presentations and why you might want to mark next year's public symposium on your calendar!

Whales & Boats

Monitoring and modeling shipping traffic in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary from Dr. David Wiley of NOAA took a look at the all-too-common marine collision of critters and boats ... and explored ways we might be able to mange this with better outcomes for all.

Yes, Cape Birds are Different

Rachel Bolus, graduate student at UMASS/Amherst, spent the summer with bird nets and recording devices as part of her ongoing work Geographic variation of song and plumage of the Common Yellowthroat.

Liam Bailey (right), a junior at Nauset Regional High School, answers questions from the audience about the Bee Inventory he worked on this summer with the National Seashore's Mark Adams (left) as part of the National Seashore's Atlantic Research Center. Native bee inventories are underway at more than 40 National Parks around the country as part of an effort to understand our native pollinators. Photo by Teresa Martin.

Turns out this little yellow-necked songbird grows bigger and yellower and healthier on the Cape than its other habitats. The little guys picked up an extra note in their songs, here too. Males sing a nine-note "look at me" anthem, compared to an 8-note version elsewhere.

Icky Bugs in Seals

Seals. Think we've got a few seals? Dr. Rebecca Gast from WHOI used the summer to continue a 2005 project originally funded by NOAA to look at two specific microscopic nasties-- Giardia and Cryptosporidium--that live in humans and seals (& seabirds and others, for that matter) as part of an effort to understand public health and environmental health relationships and how these two particular distress-inducing organisms move through the human/seal/seal food chain ecosystem.

Robot Cruises Town Cove

Red tide sends shivers through the shellfish industry and Dr. Michael Brosnahan from WHOI spent the summer letting the Cytobot loose ... to learn more.

In his project, he sent a robot armed with microscopic imagery eyes-- the Image Flow Cytobot --to move through water recording the flow of phytoplankton, including the varieties that cause red tide. In this case, it built a literal snapshot of cell activity in Eastham's Town Cove, as part of modeling the circulation of the Nauset estuary.

Researchers All

Did the ice really freeze later and melt earlier? Did trees bud out sooner? We don't know yet. But under the leadership of the Seashore's Scott Buchanan, a cadre of citizen scientists hope to find out.

Phenology, the timing of events in a life cycle, combines with crowd-sourced science to create "Citizen science led phenology monitoring at Cape Cod National Seashore". Over the course of this project, dozens of citizen-scientists will ultimately go into the field and gather data to help us understand the ebb, flow, and changes in what happens when.


We have dozens of species native pollinators buzzing around our region but it turns out we don't know that much about them. Mark Adams from the Cape Cod National Seashore and Liam Bailey, a junior at Nauset Regional High School spent the season running a bee inventory as part of a nation-wide study on native bees coordinated across 41 national park research centers.

Are You My Lunch?

Despite the ominous title "Tracing a marine food web with stable isotopes",  Agnes Mittermayr, from the Geomar Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel Germany, has been developing pragmatic ways to understand food chains: who eats whom. This leads to an understanding of keystone species a species that may be essential to the health and survival of an ecosystem.

Crabs. Philosophy. Mucky Marshes.

In "Crabs, Cordgrass and the Cartesian Cabal" graduate student Chris Green from Antioch University simultaneously worked on a study to see how small purple marsh crabs and their love of snacking on cordgrass has contributed to marsh die back turning lush green marshes into muddy flora-bare plateaus. Oh, and along the way, to develop thinking about the philosophy of the scientific method.

Turtles and Toads

In the final two presentations, Dr. Ray Clarke, Sarah Lawrence College, and Brad Timm, UMASS/Amherst, each talked about their work following two rarely seen species: box turtles and eastern spadefoot toads.

Using different forms of radio tracking (glued on monitors for the bulky turtles, implanted devices for the tiny toads) each team followed the movements of our reptilian and amphibian friends, tracking their movement from breeding to feeding to wintering down.

Box turtles, it turns out, like the warm sand under the power lines ... where their eggs run the risk of being crushed.  Spadefood toads like the ponds of the Provincelands ... where they run the risk of being smushed by a car between feeding and breeding. 

Balance of the Whole

One turtle or toad, a bird, a seal, a sweat bee, a microscopic phytoplankton ... each individual has a tiny role ... yet as a whole, it becomes a tapestry.

We're part of that too and through a summer of science, done over and over, and collaborated and communicated across a bigger community of summer of sciences--we end up with an understanding that leads to practices that help manage public land better for all species.

Which, it turns out, exactly maps to the goals for of the nation's Research Learning Centers, including the Atlantic Research Center, here in Truro. welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on