Environmental Science major Jasmine Kelly spent her summer break (2019) at Eastern Kentucky University (Richmond, Kentucky), gauging the importance of tree habitat for bird populations, in an NSF-funded REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates). Her field research was based in the central Appalachian Mountains, where invasive insects now threaten forest ecosystems. Read about Jasmine’s research experience below:
“My mentor, Dr. David Brown, and I were interested in studying the importance of Eastern Hemlock trees to a species of bird called the Acadian Flycatcher. Hemlocks provide shelter for many bird species, but the tree is facing population declines. This is due to an invasive aphid-like organism, called the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, that’s slowly killing the tree by feeding on starches in the trees needles.
“To study this question, we employed three main methods. The first was a technique called spot mapping where we follow a bird around its territory, and record what tree species it lands on using ArcGIS Online. The second method was uploading shape files to ArcGIS and Geospatial Modeling Environment to make a map of all the bird territories, as well as create kernel density estimators, or KDE. The third method was to visit the center of the territory and record vegetation data. Using a 10-factor wedge prism, we recorded the diameter at breast height of trees. Any Hemlocks measured were given a vigor ranking score of 1-5, with 1 being healthy and 5 being dead.
“The results of this study determined that the presence or absence of Eastern Hemlock is not important to Acadian Flycatchers. Our study also found that the Hemlocks' average vigor ranking was a 4, or almost dead. This suggests that the Adelgid is gradually changing the composition of the forest, and other trees are taking their place.
“After graduation I would like to become a wildlife biologist and gain more field experience. After gaining more experience, I’m going to apply to graduate school to get a master’s degree.”
Originally from Bowie, Maryland, Jasmine is on track to graduate in December 2019. She is a member of the TriBeta National Biological Honor Society, the Biology Club, and the Greener Coalition.