Every year several scientists from around the country arrive at Huyck Preserve to do field research. They come from all levels of study - Masters and PhD candidates, professors and PhDs, undergraduates, and more. As part of our dedication to scientific research, Huyck offers the Huyck Grants program to help fund these researchers and the science they conduct in a huge range of topics.
We ask that when they get published, they let us know so we can share the knowledge. If you're a recent Huyck grant recipient and have a paper published - remember to send it to us!
Laurel Symes, PhD., of Dartmouth College has been a multiple-year Huyck grant recipient for her research on crickets and their acoustic communications. She's shared some of her research techniques and knowledge with our high school Wildlife Ecology Research students and recent had 2 papers published from her work.
The first paper published in the July edition of the scientific journal Evolution looks at mate selection in tree crickets. Mate selection is an important part of defining what a species is - often we think of a species as a group of similar organisms that mate only with themselves. Yet some species can hybridize - that is interbreed - with other species. A common example is that of the horse and the donkey - each a distinct species, yet when they interbreed they create a mule (which is sterile!). So the mating habits of a species can lead to speciation - the creation of new a species, which means studying how and why individuals in a species chose their mates can help us understand how new species emerge and evolve. This paper is about Dr. Symes's experiments on tree crickets and their use of song to select a mate. Female tree crickets were exposed to cricket songs with different pulse rates - that is, different speed and frequencies of song - and their responses to the songs measured. The pulse rates of the males of each tree cricket species were also measured and the species divided into fast pulse rates, slow pulse rates, and intermediate pulse rates. In the species with low pulse rates in the male song, the females typically had their highest responses to low pulse rate song - a match! But in species in which the males had a high pulse rate song, the females had a highest response to songs that were even higher and faster than those their males were singing. This could mean the fastest pulse rate species are moving towards even faster songs, which further isolates them from other tree cricket species and prevents interbreeding, and encourages speciation. This difference in mating habits is called reproductive isolation - when two (or more!) species share habitats, but do not interbreed with each other. If you'd like to read the whole paper, you can download a pdf of it here
In the second paper in the upcoming September edition of the journal Animal Behavior, Symes explores the impacts of human sounds on tree cricket mating behaviors. Since tree crickets use song as a primary means of communicating and finding mates, human developments may impact the crickets ability to find mates by creating loud background and ambient noises. Imagine trying to listen for just one voice at an amusement park or a concert - the more noises around you, the harder it is to listen for one specific voice. Around human developments, there are road noises (cars driving, playing music, honking horns, brakes), people talking, pets barking or meowing, and many other noises not typically found in nature. The acoustics of tree crickets contain low amplitude and low frequency parts, which may be lost in the background of human noises. But, in a forest without humans, there are still other sounds for tree crickets to compete with, such as other cricket calls, other insects, frogs, birds, and many other sounds. So maybe tree crickets can adapt to louder ambient noise level and still find mates successfully. Symes study looked at the effect of road noise on tree crickets, by collecting crickets from different habitats and development areas and exposing them different levels of ambient noise using recordings in a lab and monitoring their singing. The experiment did not find any significant impact of road noise on the tree crickets, but it may have impacts on other species, or on the ability of predators to find prey. If you're interested in all the results of the study, you can view a pdf of it here.
This is just some of the exciting and interesting research in biology, ecology, behavior, and other fields that goes on at Huyck Preserve! If you want to support this work please consider becoming a member today!