UMD & Smithsonian 2013 Seed Grant Program

Impacts of invasive predators on island endemic food web networks
Daniel Gruner (UMD Department of Entomology) and Robert Fleischer (SI Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics)

Biological invasions are a primary worldwide driver of ecological change and species endangerment. On oceanic islands worldwide, invasive rats in particular are likely responsible for extinction of thousands of endemic bird populations and species. In the Hawaiian Islands, two-thirds of the forest bird species still extant are threatened or endangered, which only increases the challenge of observing and quantifying ongoing threats from introduced predators. The proposed work develops novel genomic tools to analyze diet and extract the history of predation from the traces left behind in bird and rat feces. We will work within a long-term experimental manipulation of rats in replicated forest fragments, allowing construction of food web network models in the presence and absence of rats, and quantification of the ecological impacts of predation on birds and competition for their shared invertebrate prey. The proposed study will improve the scientific basis for management, for example if introduced game birds contribute via diet subsidies to rat predation of native passerine birds. 

Genomic insights into evolution, ecological adaptations and biological diversity of tropical marine cyanobacteria
Charles Delwiche (UMD Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics) and Valerie Paul (SI Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce)

Cyanobacteria (also known as "blue-green algae") are a group of bacteria that perform plant-like photosynthesis, and release oxygen in the process (plants and algae are capable of photosynthesis because they have cyanobacteria permanently incorporated into their cells). They are among the earliest of all organisms unambiguously identifiable in the fossil record; over the last 3 billion years they have adapted to almost every habitat on Earth, and are important in many environmental and economically important processes, including "black band disease" (BBD) of coral. Despite the importance of this group, it is believed that much of their biological diversity remains unstudied, in part because they can be difficult to grow in the laboratory and are difficult to identify by visual examination. The research proposed will be a collaboration between Valerie Paul at the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce and Charles Delwiche at the University of Maryland, who will bring together their expertise in cyanobacterial biology and in genomics to apply DNA methods to the study of cyanobacterial diversity in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.

Elucidating spermatozoal energy metabolism and metabolic dysfunction in felids and teratospermic species
Carol Keefer (UMD Department of Animal & Avian Sciences) and Adrienne Crosier (SI Conservation Biology Institute, Center for Species Survival)

Cheetahs, along with 90% of the world's cat family, have poor sperm quality which hinders reproductive management efforts to maintain endangered populations. More specifically, their sperm have poor survival following frozen storage (cryopreservation). Using the novel approach of mass spectrometry, we will investigate spermatozoal energy metabolism in domestic cats and endangered species such as the cheetah. This approach will allow us to obtain a more complete understanding of the complex metabolic mechanisms that dictate fertility and cryo-survival of spermatozoa and allow us to develop improved methods of long-term frozen storage of sperm, eggs, and embryos for these species.

Valuing our scans: Towards a metric for assessing impact, value, and use of digitization and digital surrogacy for ethnographic collections
Ricardo L. Punzalan (UMD College of Information Studies) and Robert Leopold (SI The Castle on the National Mall)

Our project develops a general framework for assessing the impact of digitized ethnographic collections. To achieve this goal, we will document and analyze the how key stakeholders articulate the value and perceived uses of existing digitized anthropological collections. Our research benefits from the insights and perspectives gathered from a diverse group of individuals currently involved in the preservation and access of heritage collections. These stakeholders include the heritage professionals and administrators working within institutions that house ethnographic collections, the source communities from which the artifacts originated, and the various target users of these digitized materials.

Piloting tools to enable active and participatory learning for middle school students: Research project on how a digital toolset will help students integrate Smithsonian digital resources into their learning experiences
Susan De La Paz (UMD Counseling, Higher Education, & Special Education) and Melissa Wadman (SI Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access)

During the 2013-14 academic year, the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access and University of Maryland College of Education faculty will work with middle school students who are attending the PGCPS's newly opened College Park Academy to enable students to explore thousands of Smithsonian digital resources through guided, informal learning activities in history and STEM areas. Students will produce digital projects guided by their own interests, which will be acknowledged and rewarded through Smithsonian Digital Badges. Measures of learning and student interest will inform the developers about further refinement of the existing digital toolset that has been designed to scaffold the learning process.



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The average high school weighted GPA for entering freshmen at UMD is 4.21.