Challenge Grant allows student to survey shrew population

A SUNY Oswego student will conduct a detailed study of ages and populations of northern short-tailed shrews at Rice Creek Field Station under a campus Student/Faculty Collaborative Challenge Grant.

Sara Ressing will work with Professor Al Lackey of the biological sciences department under the college grant, which encourages hands-on collaboration and professional-level experience.

Ressing will trap shrews and mark them with passive integrated transponders. These grant-funded PIT tags will allow Ressing and Lackey to repeatedly measure the length of the pigmented portion of the same samples’ upper incisors—the most reliable way of determining age.

“These measurements will allow us to assign age to individuals and obtain a general overview of the age structure of this population,” Ressing said. “Age structure is vital to understanding population turnover rates.” Age is an important factor lacking in previous longitudinal studies of this species, they said.

Other than avoiding the venomous bites of the shrews, Ressing said she looks forward to the fieldwork this summer. “Learning how to undertake a population study would prepare me for what I am interested in pursuing in graduate school,” she said. “Through this process I hope to gather further knowledge of small mammal trapping techniques as well as doing mark and recapture studies.”

Using the PIT tags eliminates the need to sacrifice any shrews, allowing them to continue their habits in the wild, Lackey noted.

Lackey described this shrew species as one of the most “ecologically important small mammals in eastern North America,” with this study providing the “tools to create a cross-sectional view of the demographics of the shrew population at Rice Creek Field Station.”

Grant funding also will enable Ressing to visit the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and compare data from Oswego’s shrews with other specimens.

The project is one of two receiving the campus-based Challenge Grants. In the other, biological sciences students Kyle Pursel and Matthew Volny will work with professors Peter Rosenbaum and Amy Welsh to detail the genetics of wood turtles and eastern chipmunks.

Initiated at Oswego in 2004, Challenge Grants award up to $2,500 each to projects involving undergraduate scholarly or creative activity in collaboration with faculty. The grants are supported in part by a donation from Timothy Murphy, a 1974 Oswego graduate and the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the SUNY Research Foundation.

- END -

(Posted: May 16, 2007)