2013-10-24 / Front Page

Living Laboratories for SRU Students

By Jack Kelly

Dr. Jameson Chace, Ph.D., Biology Professor at Salve Regina University, is utilizing local wildlife habitats as teaching tools and living laboratories for Salve students engaged in a number of scientific studies and experiments.

Chace’s students begin their association with Aquidneck Island’s diverse habitats early on in their academic studies. According to Chace, “We introduce the freshmen general biology students to local biological communities during the second week of labs. The students are responsible for identifying 10 species–at least two algae or seaweed species and at least eight animal species which may include fish, birds, or mammals. They log their observations and identifications in their lab journals.”

In mid-September, freshmen classes were transported to the Gooseneck Cove/Price’s Neck Cove region of Newport. With the guidance and assistance of sophomore and junior mentors, the freshmen began their observations and studies of the wide- ranging plant and animal species that inhabit the area's waters. Using large nets known as seines, the students captured marine creatures, including fish and crabs, which they identified and released. They also documented migratory Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons and other avian species. The students’ discoveries revealed the deeply interdependent relationships that all species of flora and fauna have in these coastal habitats. The wetlands neighboring this region serve as nurseries for fish, eel, shrimp and crab species, and provide a stopover destination for many species of migratory birds. The students will study these areas in depth to understand their role in maintaining healthy flora and fauna.


A juvenile Common Yellowthroat, a long range migrant, about to be released after banding and biological testing. (Photos by Jack Kelly) A juvenile Common Yellowthroat, a long range migrant, about to be released after banding and biological testing. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Gooseneck Cove and Price’s Neck Cove are also the subject of an intensive multi-year study by Chace and his students. “We are currently in the fourth year of a five-year grant study of this area. We are trying to determine the marine response to climate change and the effects on nearshore organisms in relationship to the effects this may have on the wintering sea duck populations, through changes in food distribution, or items in the sea ducks' diet. We are performing this study in coordination with other Rhode Island colleges and universities, which are studying other sections of the state during the same time period,” Chace explained.


Salve students search for marine-life specimens in Gooseneck Cove. 
(Photo by Jack Kelly) Salve students search for marine-life specimens in Gooseneck Cove. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Rhode Island waters play host to tens of thousands of sea ducks and are widely known for large winter populations of Common Eider, Common Goldeneye, Longtailed Ducks, Bufflehead Ducks, Harlequin Ducks, three separate species of Scoters, and many more.


Professor Jameson Chace instructs a class at Salve Regina University. Professor Jameson Chace instructs a class at Salve Regina University. Chace’s team uses catch and release programs to monitor the overall health and number of fish, crabs, shellfish, lobsters, and other coastal marine species populations on a weekly basis, from early spring through late winter. “The sea ducks have any number of areas to winter in, but they return to Rhode Island waters because of the vast quantities and diversity of food available to them,” Chace said.

Some biologists have warned in the past that a collapse or departure of food species due to climate change could cause a ripple effect in the food chain that potentially could lead to a decline in sea duck populations and might eventually affect local shell fishermen, as well as sport and commercial fishing. However, Chace believes this to be a remote possibility at this time.


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Another group of Chace’s protégés is conducting a migratory bird banding study in Middletown along the buffer zone for Bailey Brook, a major source of drinking water for Newport residents. During this humane catch and release project, three students, Marissa Simpson, Skye Sloman, and Dakota Cowell, are basing their senior projects on experiments, observations, and studies they are conducting in this lush habitat.

Simpson is undertaking a comparative analysis of parasite levels in short-distance migratory birds versus long-distance migrants. She hopes to determine the types and origins of the parasites vis-à-vis the migration journeys taken by the different species, using blood and feather samples to achieve that end. She is studying Northern Waterthrushes, Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers, and other songbird species.

Sloman is studying the stress levels experienced by birds dwelling in urban environments versus those in rural habitats. By studying blood and feather samples, she hopes to determine the amount of corticosterone, a hormone present in both bird and human blood, that indicates stress levels. She is currently sampling Black-capped Chickadee and Titmouse populations because these species reside in both rural and urban areas.

Cowell is running the banding program with Chace’s assistance. He is also studying the invasive plants in the buffer zone to determine if the vegetation is detrimental to migratory birds.

Other Salve students are participating in a monitoring program that measures the pulse of the first surge of rainwater runoff that reaches Bailey Brook after a heavy rainfall. They are evaluating the performance of the buffer zone by measuring the amounts of pollutants that reach the brook after filtering through the zone.

While Chace’s students are learning valuable biology lessons from these and other projects in our own backyard, the residents of Aquidneck Island will be the beneficiaries of the knowledge gleaned in the future.

Professor Chace will be conducting the last two bird banding sessions on Oct. 29 and 31, from dawn until approximately 10 a.m. Anyone who wishes to observe or who has questions involving any of the programs may contact him at jameson.chace@salve.edu.

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