Research Opportunity for Undergraduates

Interested in a career in wildlife conservation, app design, bioinformatics, or database management?

Looking for a way to get involved and make an impact on real environmental issues?

Charles van Rees, a Ph.D. candidate in Biology at Tufts and member of the Water Diplomacy IGERT is recruiting undergraduate students with interests in these fields to work with the Hawaiian gallinule tracking project—a chapter of his Ph.D. thesis and collaborative research project between the Reed Research Group at Tufts University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Two positions are currently available: one for a field assistant and one for a website manager/app designer.

The Hawaiian gallinule (Gallinula galeata sandvicensis) is an endangered subspecies of waterbird which are found only in coastal freshwater wetlands in Hawaii. These birds were once found on all of the Hawaiian Islands, but are now restricted to two populations on the islands of Kaua`i and O`ahu. O`ahu, Hawaii’s most developed island, has lost more than 75% of its Hawaiian gallinule habitat since human colonization, and gallinules there persist only in small patches of remnant habitat scattered across the landscape. The extinction risk of these populations may depend on their connectivity, that is, how easily birds can get from one habitat to the other and promote gene flow and population stability. If movement between habitats is limited, these populations may have higher extinction risk.

Almost nothing is known about the movement habits of this shy and elusive bird. Two years ago, the Reed Research Group and USFWS started a research project studying the movement of these birds in order to start understanding how continued urbanization on O`ahu may be affecting their habitat connectivity. A major part of this project is a mark-resight study, where individual gallinules are captured and marked with a unique combination of colored plastic leg-bands. These bands enable individuals to be monitored over time; whenever a bird with a particular band combination is observed in a particular place, that information is recorded and entered into a database. With enough resightings, researchers can estimate the movement behavior of individuals across time.

Charles and his colleagues capture and band additional gallinules on O`ahu every summer. They also organize and facilitate a group of citizen-scientist volunteers who submit sightings of banded birds around the island to a project website.

Undergraduate assistants are needed to help with two particular activities:

1) Field assistant – Travel to Oahu for a 2 month period during summer 2016; help trap, measure and band Hawaiian gallinules and assist with other ecological research.

2) Software developer and outreach coordinator – Help maintain, redesign, and improve the project website, organize outreach online and through social media, and develop a mobile app for submitting gallinule sightings remotely.

Students can read more about these openings at the ROGUE (Research Opportunities for Graduate and Undergraduate Exchange) website for the Gallinule Tracking Project. Both of these opportunities are amenable to the inclusion of independent research projects in citizen science, ecology, conservation, computer science, and other fields, and can act as a jumping-off point for theses in the student’s major field.

Students should apply through the ROGUE program as early as possible to discuss funding and collaboration possibilities. Applications to funds available through the Tufts Summer Scholars program are due March 2, 2015 — students are encouraged to apply well in advance in order to have adequate time to prepare a solid proposal.