Research at the Experimental Ponds
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Why Have Experimental Ponds?
For over 50 years, a broad range of short and long-term field research and experimental projects have utilized Cornell's Experimental Ponds Facility! Past and ongoing Ponds research projects provide valuable insights and solutions into a variety of disciplines including: management of invasive species in the Erie Canal; conservation of migratory birds; and a broadened understanding of nutrient and chemical pathways in aquatic environments.
NELSON HAIRSTON: With David Hambright (University of Oklahoma), along with Robert Howarth and William Schaffner (Cornell EEB), Dr. Hairston studies the role that zooplankton community structure has on the ecosystem-level processes of nutrient cycling. Using the Cornell Experimental Ponds Facility, the Hairston Lab manipulated zooplankton community structure by having fish present (produces a copepod-dominated community) or absent (produces a Daphnia-dominated community). Based on research by others, high rates of nitrogen fixation in ponds with low N:P ratios were expected. However, Hairston and colleagues found this result only in the presence of fish (where grazing by zooplankton is relatively low). When fish are absent, the Daphnia graze down the cyanobacteria to low levels and N-fixation is greatly reduced (Hambright et al. 2007a,b). Although cyanobacteria are generally considered poor food for Daphnia, these grazers appear early in the year and prevent any cyanobacterial bloom from starting (Schaffner et al. 1994).
MAREN VITOUSEK: The Vitousek Lab studies how organisms cope with challenges. Ongoing research is exploring how stress and social interactions change the biology of individuals that experience them, and why some individuals are better able to cope with challenges than others. Since 2013, Dr. Vitousek has studied these questions in tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) breeding at Cornell’s Experimental Ponds. This large, nest-box breeding population of tree swallows was first established by Dr. David Winkler over 30 years ago. Birds in this population are individually marked, enabling researchers to follow them throughout their lives. The team has recently shown that responding to brief challenges can have lasting impacts on tree swallows, and that variation in the ability to cope with and recover from stressors is predicted by individual differences in the ability to terminate the hormonal stress response.
DAVID WINKLER: Since the mid 1980’s Dr. Winkler has been studying Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) life history variation. Swallows are obligate aerial insectivores during the breeding season, and because air temperatures in spring often are too cold for aerial insects to fly, food availability for swallows can go from feast to famine over a few hours with the passage of a cold front, leading to our current focus on the effects of weather and climate change on swallow reproduction. The Winkler Lab is developing, through a Long Term Research in Environmental (LTREB) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), a sensor network of 25 next boxes at the Ponds Facility, each of which contains a web-cam, egg and nest-chamber thermocouples, a Radio Frequency Identification reader and a Peltier device to cool or heat the box contents. All these nodes are networked to a common server to allow observations and controlled temperatures, etc. remotely. With these boxes, Winkler and his team are gathering detailed information on the effects of nest temperature on patterns of parental care and offspring development, and we have coupled this work with experimental work on the effects of temperature on flight performance in insects to allow us to better predict and understand organismal responses to climate change (this research was based at the Ponds). READ the Cornell Chronicle article about Dr. Winkler's Tree Swallow research at the Ponds (September 2016).
While recent and historical experiments at the Ponds have focused on the most effective and biologically sound management of lakes and ponds, several other research projects have been aimed at semi-aquatic or even terrestrial biota. These studies include:
- Influence of pond fertility on fish growth
- Growth and competitive interaction of emergent marsh vegetation
- Phenological studies of bulrush
- Long-term changes in marsh water chemistry
- Loss of N from aquatic systems
- Influence of environmental factors on algal productivity
- Aquatic herbicide evaluation
- Effects of nutrient enrichment on aquatic systems
- Structure and production dynamics of freshwater communities
- Female mimicry in bluegill sunfish
- Territorial behavior of the green frog
- Parental care and breeding biology of tree swallows
- Effects of varying light levels upon early aquatic plant growth using neutral density shades