The Natural World

Recorded five-minute presentations for the Undergraduate Scholarly Showcase in Category J: The Natural World, Projects J-01 through J-28.

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J-01: Aspergillus fumigatus: The Quickly Adapting Mold

Nikita Malev, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. David Askew
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Aspergillus fumigatus is a ubiquitous pathogenic fungus, a mold commonly found in soil, organic waste, or decaying organic material. We inhale hundreds of its spores every day. For people with healthy immune systems, that is rarely of any concern. However, nearly 15,000 hospitalizations, according to the CDC, occur every year in people with cystic fibrosis, organ transplant recipients, and other immunocompromised patients. While there are treatments available, same as for any fungal infection, A. fumigatus has an incredibly powerful resistance mechanism, allowing it to survive under many stress conditions, including many antifungals that are available. The goal of our lab is to understand the basic cellular mechanisms behind this resistance. My project involved looking a particular gene called spfA. SpfA is a protein pump that helps modulate the fungal cell's response to environmental stress, like the kind that can be caused by the immune system. By creating a mutant in which this gene was practically deleted, we were able to examine what kinds of chemical environments affect the growth of the fungus and to what extent. My job included creating these assays on customized plates, comparing the effect of drugs with known mechanisms of action and this mutant strain. By using these and other techniques, we were able to identify the role of the spfA protein in A. fumigatus and determined that its loss impairs the stress adaptability of the fungus.


J-02: Affects of Uranium on Male Infertility in an Environmentally Exposed Cohort

Amisha Saini, NeuroBiological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Cecily Fassler
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Heavy metal exposures have been linked with male infertility issues including decreased sperm quality, increased chromosome instabilities, and reduced serum testosterone levels. The general population is primarily exposed to background levels of the heavy metal uranium (U) in drinking water, food, and the atmosphere. We hypothesize higher levels of U are associated with decreased male fertility. The Feed Materials Production Center (FMPC), a U refinery in Fernald, Ohio, operated between 1951 and 1989. The Fernald Community Cohort (FCC) voluntarily enrolled community members who lived for at least two consecutive years between 1952 and 1984 within a 5 mile radius of the FMPC. We have cumulative U exposure for 4,488 men in the FCC. The FCC has extensive data on the cohort seen yearly from 1990 to 2008 for physical exams, blood draws, and questionnaires. Updated questionnaires were sent every few years after 2008 to report new medical conditions. Those who indicated troubles conceiving were sent additional questionnaires on reproductive history. Preliminary data from 57 men in the FCC shows mean cumulative U in infertile males was 0.0082 µg/m3 versus 0.0057 µg/m3 in fertile males. Men who indicated infertility on the 2020 questionnaire were sent a letter and questionnaire in 2021 to get updated infertility data. Upon final data collection, logistic regression analysis will be performed to determine if male infertility is predicted by U exposure while adjusting for other covariates. This project will establish if there is an association between male infertility and environmental U exposure in men.


J-03: Use of Constructed Wetlands for Saline and Selenium-Contaminated Agricultural Drainage Water

Hannah Leibman, Environmental Engineering
Project Advisor: Dr. Dionysios Dionysiou
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The agricultural sector is a major water user in the United States, with irrigation accounting for approximately 42% of all freshwater withdrawals (118 billion gallons per day). It is estimated that 45 billion gallons of excess irrigation water drain off agricultural fields every day in the U.S. In the next 30 years, the human population and food demand will likely rise, further increasing the irrigation water demand. With the increasing demand, high cost of transportation, and dwindling supply, the local reuse of agricultural drainage water can serve as a supplementary source for irrigation.  Agricultural drainage water often contains nitrates, phosphates, salts, and other soluble chemicals and have been associated with surface water eutrophication and increased salinity in surface and groundwater. However, particularly in the 17 western states, the elevated levels of salts and toxic constituents (i.e., selenium and boron) present in agricultural drainage water have restricted its direct reuse for irrigation and require treatment. Constructed wetlands have been shown to offer an alternative method to remove contaminants from agricultural drainage water. This natural treatment uses a combination of adsorption, bio assimilation, and microbial methods to remove constituents from agricultural drainage water. To optimize this technology for the removal of salts and selenium, different plants, hydraulic effects, and microorganism interactions have been studied.  This research highlights the key design and operational considerations as well as future research needs for the optimization of constructed wetlands for treatment of saline and selenium-laden agricultural drainage water.


J-05: Monarch Butterflies: Fluctuating Asymmetry of the Eye

Hailey McGee, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Patrick  Guerra
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Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) develop small deviations from the target phenotype to deal with different environmental and genetic stresses. These deviations fluctuate in the symmetry of their paired structures. One way their phenotype will vary is in their eyes to help them navigate during migration. Monarch butterflies have thousands of ommatidia which are individual units that perceive light and images. These receptors use the sun as a directional tool to help the butterfly direct their flight to the south.

Knowing this, we proceeded to collect data from monarch butterflies in different seasons. The data I will be presenting is comparing the number of ommatidia in the left and right eyes in monarch butterflies in the spring, and in the fall. We collected butterflies from both seasons over two years, and counted the number of ommatidia in each eye. The purpose of this was to evaluate if the monarch butterflies will have more symmetrical eyes in the fall since they rely more on solar cues during this time to migrate to the south. The analysis of the data confirmed our hypothesis.


J-06: Are Monarch Butterflies (Danus plexippus) Able to Sense Temperature?

Olivia Leek, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Patrick Guerra
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Monarch butterflies (Danus plexippus) are ectotherms and use their environment to regulate body temperatures. When migrating to their overwintering site, where they have previously never flown before, they must be able to maintain favorable body temperatures throughout the duration of the journey. Therefore, understanding the thermosensory abilities of monarch butterflies is important because it would give more insight in to how they navigate these changing temperature conditions. To test this, each butterfly was placed in thermal gradient arena (11-42°C) and received the following three trials: right heat, left heat, and no heat gradient. The videos from these trials were then scored to measure their time spent walking, flying, and resting. The results showed that there was no significant difference in the amount of movement between gradient and no gradient trials. However, as temperature sensation could have influenced other behavioral phenotypes not scored in this work.


J-07: Developing a Model for Monarch Butterfly Migration Patterns

Megan McHugh, Biological Sciences (Biomedical Studies)
Project Advisor: Dr. Patrick Guerra
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Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus L., migrate during the fall from Southern Canada over 4,000 kilometers to central Mexico. An important aspect of migration is the pace and speed which animals travel due to the energy costs associated with these long-distance journeys. There have been two methods for estimating the speed that monarchs travel. The first is tag-recapture, which generates two locations that can be used to determine an average speed. The second is under laboratory conditions using a flight mill to estimate average speed. These studies have shown speeds that monarchs travel ranging from 3.6 km/hr to 18 km/hr. With this, a limitation of tag-recapture techniques is that the estimation of speed assumes a constant pace during daylight, while in laboratory studies these conditions may also not reflect patterns and processes found in the field. To test the accuracy of these previously established migratory speeds, we modeled monarch movement propensity using nearby micrometeorological conditions reported by the NOAA, that promote or inhibit movement and assessed model accuracy to recapture location. Flight threshold parameters were based on physiological and behavioral limits based on literature, which included temperature, humidity, precipitation, and photoperiod. Preliminary analysis shows that monarchs appear to be traveling between 3.9 and 7 km/hr, as these speeds had the highest accuracy from tag to recapture location. This model is able to formulate the straight-line path of the butterflies' hourly movement in environmental conditions opposed to in the laboratory-which gives more accuracy in predicting the butterflies' actual pace of migration.


J-08: Does Mimicry Extend to Flight Behaviors in a Mimetic Damselfly?

Haylie Kinman, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Nathan Morehouse
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The mimicking of a toxic species can reduce predation risk and usually involves mimetic colorations. Behavioral mimicry can also evolve to contribute to educate predators. We studied flight mimicry in a neotropical mimicry ring consisting of Polythoridae damselflies mimicking the color and morphology of toxic Ithomiini glasswing butterflies, which serve as mimetic models. Previous studies suggested possible flight mimicry in this system, and the aim of this work was to further explore this question by using three-dimensional tracking of free-flying individuals in semi-natural conditions. Animals were filmed in a field insectary, including the model glasswing butterflies, two species of mimic damselflies, two closely related species of non-mimic damselflies, and closely related glasswing butterflies without aposematic colorations.

All butterflies tended to exhibit more sinuous and less rapid flights, while all damselflies tended to show straighter and faster flights. Butterfly flights were sinuous when observed from above but not from the side. Male damselflies had a higher average flight velocity than their female counterparts. The multivariate analysis of the flight parameters suggested that mimic damselflies tend to be closer to model butterflies than non-mimic damselflies, with two exceptions: males of one of the mimic species and females of one of the non-mimic species. This analysis also showed that the species with poor color mimicry showed better flight mimicry than the species with good color mimicry. In comparison with previous works, our current results suggest that flight mimicry, if present, might be compensating for poorer resemblance of the color aposematic signal.


J-09: Dehydration and Blood Feeding Alter Mosquito Survival Through Unique Gut Interactions

Blaine Payton, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Joshua Benoit
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Mosquitos are one of the most efficient vectors for disease transmission, making them an important organism to study throughout the world. The ability of a mosquito to transmit disease is based on how long the mosquito can live, how often they bite, and how abundant they are, among other factors. The survival of the mosquitos can be dependent on several factors including dehydration and blood feeding. In this study, mosquitos were provided the opportunity to blood feed or not blood feed prior to being exposed to dehydrating (75% relative humidity) or non-dehydrating conditions (100% relative humidity). Both Aedes aegypti and Culex pipiens mosquitos survived longer when blood fed before being exposed to dehydrating conditions compared to their non-blood fed counterparts. Volumetric analyses were conducted to determine how mosquitos of both species managed the blood and water from a bloodmeal. Preliminary dissection results indicate that mosquitos fill their crop (which is not typically sued for bloodmeal digestion) after exposure to dehydrating conditions. This altered blood storage may be one reason that these blood fed mosquitos survive longer than non-blood fed mosquitos. These effects of dehydration should be considered in future research because they modify important conditions of vectorial capacity.


J-10: Dehydration Has an Integral Role in Bloodmeal Utilization and May Affect Disease Transmission in Mosquitoes

Elliott Brown, Biological Sciences (Biomedical Studies)
Project Advisor: Dr. Joshua Benoit
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Mosquitoes are the most common human disease vectors, and cause significant health and socioeconomic issues. Dehydration stress is a major factor that limits mosquito survival and distribution. Importantly, post-dehydration bloodmeals are a mechanism that mosquitoes can use to maintain hydration status. Observations have shown that female mosquitoes are more likely to take in a bloodmeal if dehydrated and that bloodfeeding of dehydrated mosquitoes (18h at 75% RH) was more prevalent than in non-dehydrated mosquitoes (18h at 100% RH). These bloodmeals contain protein, which is extensively used in reproductive processes, so understanding the retention of a post-dehydration bloodmeal was important for understanding influences on reproduction. There were no significant differences in protein concentration between dehydrated and non-dehydrated mosquitoes, suggesting that regardless of the hydration status, mosquitoes will utilize the bloodmeal-acquired protein content similarly. However, as dehydration increases, the average number of eggs decreases, which indicates that mosquitoes are likely utilizing the nutrients in the bloodmeal for somatic maintenance rather than increased egg production. Furthermore, survival findings supported that mosquitoes do in fact use bloodmeals to counteract the consequences of dehydration, as dehydrated and bloodfed mosquitoes survived longer than their non-bloodfed counterparts under dehydration stress. Ultimately, we found that factors important to vectorial capacity determination, such as bloodfeeding prevalence, survival success, and reproductive output, can all be influenced by dehydration; underscoring the importance of considering dehydration in future mosquito research.


J-11: Behavioral and Molecular Assessment of Sleep-like States in Mosquitoes

Justin Marlman, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Joshua Benoit
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Mosquitoes are vectors of many parasites and arboviruses responsible for diseases such as malaria, and yellow fever. The vector competence of mosquitoes is influenced by factors such as biting frequency and immunity, which are directly influenced by circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms influence sleep-like states in mammals and several insect models; however, sleep has been understudied in mosquitoes. Hence, we characterized sleep-like states in mosquitoes using behavioral correlates and mining of published molecular datasets. Postural differences between putative sleep and awake states in Aedes aegypti were quantified and the orientation of the body and hindlegs revealed unique differences between putative sleep and awake states in this mosquito species. Sleep quantification and rebound assays were completed for Ae aegypti with comparisons to Culex pipiens and Anopheles stephensi, which revealed a distinct period of sleep rebound following deprivation. The sleep period of the three mosquito species matches historical field observations on mosquito activity. Lastly, we examined mosquito proteomes for orthologs linked to sleep in Drosophila melanogaster and found that 58 Drosophila sleep-based genes have orthologs in multiple mosquito species, and gene ontology revealed similar functions.  These studies suggest that sleep-like states occur in mosquitoes, and further understanding will improve existing disease modeling and control strategies.


J-12: Impact of Female Humidity Choice on Egg Viability in the American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis

Hannah Mahoney, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Joshua Benoit
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Exposure to humidity is necessary to maintain water balance and is vital to tick survival and egg viability. In general, ticks prefer damp areas with high humidity, while dry conditions decrease the survival of ticks. Little is known about the detection of humidity in ticks and how this could impact subsequent egg survival. Based on our experiments, we confirm that the Haller's organs are responsible for humidity detection and interference with this appendage alters tick attraction to humidity. This was followed with studies to examine how exposure to low humidity might impact egg viability. Groups of 1, 5, and 50 eggs of Dermacentor variabilis were subjected to different humidities ranging from 33% to 100% and then viability of the eggs was assessed by examining larval emergence. Results show that egg survival decreases with humidity with very few eggs surviving at the lowest humidity (33% RH). The treatment group with a larger number of tick eggs resulted in a greater egg viability at all humidities. In summary, humidity detection is vital to tick egg survival by allowing females to deposit their eggs under favorable conditions. The results of this study can help improve our understanding of D. variabilis's preferred microhabitats, trends in reproduction, and new methods of control.


J-13: Expressional and Metabolomic Responses of the American Dog Tick to Pesticide Exposure

Atit Pathak, Biochemistry and Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Joshua Benoit
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Ticks are obligate blood feeding pests that commonly serve as vectors for numerous human and animal pathogens. In particular, the American dog tick, Dermacentor varibialis, is a major concern to the medical and agricultural industries due to its ability to transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) and tularemia. Synthetic pyrethroids, nerve poisons, repellents and systemic pesticides have proven effective for tick management, however, the exact molecular responses of ticks to these pesticides are not well documented. This gap in our understanding serves as a roadblock for creating targeted solutions to reduce the tick burden. In this study, we analyzed transcriptomic and metabolomic changes in the American dog tick following exposure to six common pesticides to understand the specific biochemical pathways altered by chemical treatments. Forty-three genes were discovered to be differentially expressed among all pesticides, with one gene being significantly upregulated and forty-two being downregulated. Correlation of these genes with shifts in tick metabolite levels led to the confirmation of forty-one metabolic pathways that were commonly affected by all treatments. Analysis of transcriptomic and metabolomic congruence revealed unique physiological aspects affected by exposure to different pesticides. Alternative treatments against ticks can be designed in the future by understanding the molecular and biochemical response by ticks to common pesticides.


J-14: Preference of Humidity among Drosophila Melanogaster

Olivia Anderson, General Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Stephanie Rollmann
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Humidity is an important factor in the habitat preference and behavior of many animals. However, the genetic basis for variation in hygrosensory behavior, the sensing of and responding to humidity, remains poorly understood. Drosophila species live in many different environmental conditions and represent a good model for teasing apart the genetic architecture of humidity preference. Drosophila melanogaster, the classic genetic model, has a different habitat preference than D. mojavensis, a desert-adapted species inhabiting the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. While we are interested in differences in humidity preference between these species, current experiments focus on D. melanogaster. Here, we test the humidity preference of male and female flies to different humidity environments. Flies are allowed to walk freely inside a 3 cm x 1 meter Perspex tube containing a gradient of relative humidity. Humidity preference will be determined by examining video of the 4-hour trials and measuring time spent relative to the gradient. Future studies will examine hygrosensation in D. mojavensis, with the long-term goal of understanding the relationship between humidity and geographic distribution of the Drosophila species and genetic contributions to variation in hygrosensory behavior.


J-15: The Importance of Vibratory Signals in the Eavesdropping Behavior of Wolf Spiders

Jake Round, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. George Uetz
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Eavesdropping on rival male courtship is often used by male wolf spiders to locate the presence of a female. Males of the brush-legged wolf spider, Schizocosa ocreata, display multimodal courtship signals (visual and vibratory) to attract the attention of females. This study sought to understand the importance of social density cues in these two different sensory modes in the eavesdropping behavior of male S. ocreata. We compared courtship signals of male wolf spiders exposed to playback of vibratory and visual signals from different levels of social density (0, 1, 2, and 3 surrounding males).  Results were significant for both sensory mode and social density treatments.  Males showed a greater overall response to vibration signals than to visual cues, and the pattern of responses varied as well. Males exposed to vibration-only signals responded with an increasing number of courtship bouts and leg taps with increased social density, while those exposed to visual-only signals showed no pattern. The fact that males showed a response to increasing amounts of male vibratory signals suggests there must be some form of social facilitation of eavesdropping and courtship, as an increase in numbers of vibratory signals from rival males could indicate the presence of a female close by. These results are similar to previous studies, where males responded more to vibratory-only cues from single individuals compared to visual-only and multimodal stimuli.  Taken together, these results suggest spiders are capable of more complex behavioral responses than originally thought.


J-16: Effect of Invasive Callery Pear on Transmission and Reception of Vibratory Courtship Sgnaling of Schizocosa saltatrix Wolf Spiders in Leaf Litter

Abigail Ketterer, Biological Sciences
Kara Mize, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. George Uetz
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Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana) is a tree species native to China and Vietnam that has become invasive to the deciduous forests of the eastern United States. When compared to native species, the leaves of this invasive tree are thinner and smaller, and may affect the structure of the leaf litter, where many animal species live. A previous study of wolf spiders (Schizocosa ocreata) determined that Callery Pear leaves impact transmission of vibratory courtship signals. While S. ocreata rely on both visual and vibratory cues for mating, we found a similar species in the same habitat, Schizocosa saltatrix, that relies only on vibrational cues for mating.  We investigated whether the presence of P. calleryana leaves in a leaf litter habitat affects transmission of S. saltatrix vibratory courtship signals, and if transmission differs from that of the typical litter habitat. Male spiders were placed on individual leaves of Callery Pear and native species (Red Oak, Sycamore and Sugar Maple), and spider signal transmission was recorded with laser Doppler vibrometry. Results will be discussed in the context of how leaf litter type influences vibratory courtship.


J-17: He's Compensating for Something: Can Male Schizocosa ocreata Wolf Spiders Use Increased Courtship Vigor to Compensate for a Physical Trait Indicating Poor Condition?

Autumn Otto, Biological Sciences and Environmental Studies
Project Advisor: Dr. George Uetz
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Males of the brush-legged wolf spider, Schizocosa ocreata, court potential mates with visual and vibratory signals. These signals reflect male health and condition, draw attention to the male presence and increase sexual receptivity of the female. Previous studies have shown increased female receptivity is linked to courting males with larger leg tufts, which are a secondary sexual characteristic of S. ocreata that is fixed at adulthood. Additionally, higher courtship vigor (rate of leg waving) has also been correlated with increased receptivity. The main objective of this study is to test the Courtship Compensation Hypothesis, which predicts that smaller males, or those with smaller tufts, will compensate for their deficiency by increasing courtship effort to match or exceed the overall average of the population, and potentially increase mating success. This hypothesis was tested with digital video playback trials wherein females were presented with video males with manipulated courtship vigor and size to see how receptivity is affected by the combination of tuft size and courtship vigor. Once analyzed, data on female responses to altered videos will allow us to see if males can overcome constraints of size with more vigorous courtship behavior. If female responses to males with small tufts but increased courtship vigor are equivalent to those seen with controls (average tuft size and mean vigor levels), that will mean male spiders can "level the playing field" and compensate behaviorally for limits of size and morphology, supporting the Courtship Compensation Hypothesis.


J-18: Mate Appraisal by Male Schizocosa ocreata Wolf Spiders Based on Chemotactile Cues in Female Silk

Alexander  Treon, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. George Uetz
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Integration of information is fundamental to an organisms' fitness as every interaction carries a risk and a reward. The wolf spider Schizocosa ocreata offers an interesting research opportunity for examining animal information gathering as they are potentially cannibalistic. Male S. ocreata must therefore balance their desire to reproduce with the risk of potential cannibalism. To reduce adverse interactions, males must utilize information that signifies the receptivity of the female. However, the medium through which this information is conferred to the males is largely unknown.

The objective of this research was to investigate what medium influences male S. ocreata mating behavior - female visual presence, silk cues, or both. Male courtship was observed under a variety of conditions. Male S. ocreata were presented with a female that was either mated or unmated. In addition to this, the observing males were simultaneously exposed to silk from mated or unmated females, or no silk at all. There was a significant difference in courtship between the three silk conditions. Male S. ocreata demonstrated the fewest courtship behaviors when presented with a female in the absence of silk. Additionally, males displayed the most vigorous courtship behaviors in the presence of unmated female silk. The was no significant difference in response to the mating status of the females being observed. This indicates that males do not predicate their courtship on visual appraisal of female mating status.


J-19: An Investigation of How Jumping Spiders Use Their Eyes to Accurately Hunt Their Prey

isaiah Giordullo, Neuroscience and Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Elke Buschbeck
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The jumping spider, Phidippus audax, is among the most studied arthropods with image-forming eyes in the animal kingdom. Much has been observed about their eye structure and function in the laboratory, but some questions still remain in regard to how spiders use their very large anterior median (AM) eyes to keep their prey in sharp focus at varying distances. Classically, it has been assumed that the jumping spider AM eyes, like other insect eyes, are static, unable to change focus.  However, circumstantial observations from the Nelson lab at the University of Canterbury, raises the possibility of a small shift in the way AM eyes are focused when far or close objects are presented. If that is the case, then it is expected that along with a shift in focus, the image magnification of a retinal image would shift between looking close and far. In order to investigate this further we used a custom built micro-ophthalmoscope to take AM eye retinal images immediately after presenting a distantly then closely positioned cricket. Since all parameters were kept constant besides the distance of the cricket, any change in photoreceptor size observed would be due to changes in eye focal length--thus indicating that spiders could have a focusing mechanism in their AM eyes. To quantify potential changes in photoreceptor size, the images taken were overlaid and compared as pixel density in Adobe Photoshop. The analysis revealed no significant changes in pixel density, in line with the classical view that their AM eye is static.


J-20: Assessing Functional Changes and Genomic Organization in the Hemoglobin Complex of Astyanax Cavefish

 

Cody Kisner, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Joshua Gross
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Extreme environments are frequently associated with the evolution of remarkable phenotypes. Subterranean environments provide one such model given that they lack sunlight, harbor low levels of nutrition, and have less dissolved oxygen than surface watersheds. When considering the long-term effects of limited oxygen levels as an evolutionary pressure, hemoglobin genes are potential candidates given their principal role as a molecular transporter of oxygen. Initial comparisons of gene organization between cave and surface morphs, based on the current drafts of Astyanax genomes, revealed cave morphs have fewer hemoglobin genes than their closely related surface-dwelling counterparts. This finding is consistent with regressive changes, such as the loss of eyes and pigmentation that accompanied colonization of the subterranean environment. To examine the putative genetic alterations of hemoglobin genes in surface and cave morphotypes of Astyanax mexicanus, we performed a series of hemoglobin family member alignments, and compared sequence structures by creating a phylogenetic tree. Many nodes contained a single orthologous gene, however, 4/13 nodes contained more surface genes than cave revealing candidates of gene loss. Further, we discovered numerous sequence-level differences between cave and surface fish orthologs that may suggest adaptive evolution of the hemoglobin complex in cave forms. In one instance (LOC103024400) a nine base deletion was observed in the cave morph, resulting in fewer amino acids, putatively altering the binding efficiency of hemoglobin proteins. This work reveals substantial changes to the structure, genomic organization, and genetic sequences of the hemoglobin complex as a consequence of colonizing the harsh cave environment.


J-21: Development of Constructive Taste Bud Expansion Across Astyanax mexicanus Morphotypes

Halle Heerema, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Joshua Gross
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Constructive trait evolution, including numerical expansions of taste buds, has been minimally examined. We approach this problem in Astyanax mexicanus, a fish species with two distinct morphotypes - a cave-dwelling and a surface-dwelling morph. For my project, I analyzed key developmental stages of taste bud development, focusing on the expansion of taste buds across the head and chin of adult cave-dwelling individuals, not seen in surface fish. Our approach involves comparisons of both morphs at monthly intervals of development, from 6 months post-fertilization to 1 year. We labeled taste buds using fluorescent immunohistological staining for an antibody against calretinin, a calcium-binding protein enriched in mature taste buds. Following staining, a fluorescent stereomicroscope was used to image the stained taste buds, which will be processed to count and identify positioning of taste buds, using an automated program (NIH ImageJ). Our preliminary evidence suggests that by six months of age, taste buds of the cave morph have not yet expanded beyond the lingual region (still matching the surface morph). By 9 months however, the expansion has begun and appears to be at an intermediate stage beyond the area seen in surface fish taste buds but have not reached the adult cave fish pattern of distribution. Future directions for this work include analyses of quantitative genetic features of this trait, to identify QTL and candidate genes that may mediate taste system expansion. In sum, this work provides tissue-level insights to a remarkable constructive phenotype evolving under the intense environmental pressures of the cave.


J-22: Tethering Techniques for Invertebrates and Their Hidden Advantages and Disadvantages

Marisa Deavy, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Patrick Guerra
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Assessing flight performance of invertebrates has a long history of use in laboratory studies across numerous taxa using a circular rotating apparatus, the flight mill, to test different behavioral and physiological phenotypes. Another apparatus is the flight simulator, which assesses the orientation of flying invertebrate species. For both techniques, the attachment of the animal to the tethering rod needs to be a secure fit so nothing interferes with the animal's natural flight behavior. However, a limitation of tethering the insect is that it uses either an invasive approach, e.g., surgical implant, or a caustic external attachment, e.g., cyanoacrylate, that have been shown in other species to have negative consequences on behavior and longevity. Furthermore, the attachment of the tethering rod requires the use of an anesthetic, either CO2 or chilling, which can negatively alter an animal's behavior. For lepidopteran species, which have been used in flight mills and flight simulators, many studies do not report the survivorship of species with these attachments or what happens to the animal after the experiment. The purpose of this study was to review the attachment methods for invertebrates used in flight mill and flight simulator studies and identify a technique that would alleviate the negative consequences of surgery and glue attachments. We found that glue was most common in tethering the insect to the rod which varies in type, from contact adhesive to rubber cement. We briefly highlight alternative options for specifically tethering lepidopterans and elaborate on future considerations regarding experimental approaches.


J-23: Avian Mortality on the University of Cincinnati's Medical Campus in 2020

Kendall Taylor, Biological Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Ronald Canterbury
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Migratory and resident bird populations are known to be severely impacted by building collisions, where more than a billion birds are killed annually in North America. The Avian Mortality Project studies the impact of the University of Cincinnati (UC) buildings on avian populations. In the Fall 2020 migration season, a detailed study on the University of Cincinnati's Medical Campus quantified the number and species of birds by collision locations. Specifically, it was hypothesized that a reduced campus presence of humans would result in an increase in the number and diversity of collisions due to fewer deterrents. An increase in the number of collisions for fall 2020 compared to previous years, consisting of mostly migratory songbirds, was noted. UC's CARE/Crawley building remained the highest killer of birds and warrants immediate mediation.


J-24: UC Avian Mortality Project

Maggie Deller, Environmental Studies
Project Advisor: Dr. Ronald Canterbury
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The purpose of this study is to calculate the square footage of problematic windows/building facades on the University of Cincinnati's campus and estimate how much money it would take to mitigate the most problematic facades where migratory and resident birds are being killed. The three different bird-friendly glass alternatives I will be looking at is UV-reflective film, crop netting, and lighting and blind changes. My hypothesis was that mitigating these problematic windows is within a reasonable cost. To test this hypothesis, I estimated windows around campus as records of window square footage and calculated how much it would cost to mitigate each window/facade. The results of this study will hopefully bring into light the importance of the need for mitigation, as number of birds killed per façade is known from the UC's Avian Mortality Project, and provide cost effectiveness.


J-25: Kangaroo Activity at the Cincinnati Zoo

Tiffany Johnson, Biological Sciences (Zoology)
Project Advisor: Dr. Meredith Hughes
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August 18th, 2020 the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens opened their new exhibit Roo Valley! This exhibit offers an incredible experience where guest can walk-through the kangaroo habitat free of any barriers. The kangaroos can come as close they want to the guests. The observational research study took place during the months of September through December. Often, while in Roo Valley, the guest would insistently ask when the kangaroos are the most active. The purpose of this study was to determine when the kangaroos are the most active between operational hours (9:00am-5:00pm). Several variables were considered during this observational study. I would consider the time, time of day, weather, temperature, and the number of guests. Furthermore, I would observe total group activity, meaning that if most of the kangaroos were active (5/7 or 7/9) than that total group activity would be considered active. Vice versa for inactive behaviors. The results of the experiment determined that the absolute best time to visit Roo Valley (taking into account all the variables) is a cloudy morning between 9:00am-11:30am with less than 20 people on the pathway and the temperature is between 40-60°F.


J-26: Follow the Leader: Leadership in Little Blue Penguins

Austin Simon, Neuropsychology
Project Advisor: Dr. Elizabeth Hobson
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While the Little Blue Penguins are known to be social animals and form groups together, it is not well known if they have leaders for their groups or if they make decisions as a group. Data was collected with tags on the penguins that logged whenever each penguin would go past an antenna. The logs are record the timestamps for the penguins along with their ID's. This data was then analyzed using R Coding to decide whether Little Blue Penguins have leaders as well as which ones tend to be the leaders. The results showed that they do in fact have leaders in their groups, as well as some that are followers.


J-27: Prevalence of Hearing Loss in Canines Ages 5-12 Weeks

Elizabeth Urban, Speech Language and Hearing Sciences
Project Advisor: Dr. Peter Scheifele
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69 puppies, ages between 5 and 12 weeks, were screened for congenital deafness. This research reports the prevalence of unilateral and bilateral congenital deafness according to breed for this tested population.


J-28: Challenges and Opportunities of Hydroponic Growing Systems in the U.S.

Sophia Pedigo, Environmental Engineering
Project Advisor: Dr. Dionysios Dionysiou
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As the U.S. population grows, the agriculture and food production industry are expected to  keep pace with the growing demands while adjusting to the changing diets, producing foods  under growing resource scarcities, adapting to climate change, and reacting to constant  changes in the global economy. To accommodate this growing agricultural demand, more land  and water is required. However, recent studies suggest that by 2050, water sources will not be  sufficient; thus, innovative and sustainable solutions are required. Although more sustainable  practices have been implemented in conventional agriculture, a more aggressive and  sustainable approach is needed. Hydroponic growing systems offer an alternative to  conventional farming and can significantly reduce land and water requirements while  maximizing crop production. This research examines the current state of hydroponics in the  U.S., challenges associated with these controlled environment growing systems, and potential  technological solutions to combat challenges associated with the capital and operating costs of  hydroponic equipment, phytotoxicity of water, and water treatment.