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FUSE research shows regional emphasis

FUSE wasps
Andrew Shirley examines a caterpillar during his FUSE project with Drs. Meg Smith and Erin Barding. The caterpillars will later host parasitic wasps, and Shirley will perform stress tests on the caterpillars to determine if some stress factors can influence the ratio of soldier wasps that are produced from the caterpillar.

What do parasitic wasps, an abandoned cemetery, mockingbirds, and algae have in common? They all are local subjects of study this summer by teams of undergraduate students and faculty at the University of North Georgia.

UNG's Faculty-Undergraduate Summer Enrichment (FUSE) program provides support to faculty and students as they work one-on-one or in small groups to conduct in-depth research, supporting the university's mission to bolster undergraduate research and faculty research.

FUSE cemetery project
Zac Miller and Crystal Lyliston are working to preserve history.

"FUSE provides a unique opportunity for faculty and students to pursue research in a much more focused manner," said Dr. Anastasia Turner, assistant dean of student research and scholarship. "It gives the faculty dedicated time with knowledgeable assistants to make great gains in their research, and it gives the students valuable, hands-on experience with field experts, which is very rare. These experiences often have lifelong impacts on their academic and professional careers."

Four of this year's projects centered on subjects native to north Georgia, with the other two geared toward psychology.

Dr. Melba Horton, biology instructor, and Chad Subers, a biology student, are exploring algal diversity in the waters around Flat Creek and Buford Dam off Lake Lanier to determine how the algae may impact and also be an indicator of the health of the water and environment.

"Considering the role of algae in the aquatic environment and the connectivity of the land and water, algal diversity is a key to ecosystem stability," Horton said. "I am interested in understanding the condition of Lake Lanier as it is a water source for Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Also, I have always worked with natural ecosystems in the past, so it is very intriguing to see what species of algae inhabit in a man-made body of water and how their presence could have an impact on this environment and on the people using it."

Using algal diversity as an index of pollution, their results indicate that Flat Creek is moderately polluted. This matches previous reports about the area and validates using algae as a predictor of environmental change, Horton said. She added that the observed parameters need to be closely monitored, as changes can signal that the water has become unsafe for human use.

Meanwhile, at Timber Ridge Cemetery in nearby Lula, history has continued to erode as gravestones and other markers are aging and becoming illegible. Zac Miller, lecturer of geographic information systems, and Crystal Lyliston, who is majoring in environmental and spatial analysis, are working together to build a database containing information from the cemetery before much of it becomes illegible.

FUSE mockingbird project

Jessica Stehlin checks a mockingbird nest while

wearing a Ronald Reagan mask, to provide the birds

with a more consistently recognizable face.

"I wanted to expand on what I've learned in my web programming class, and I knew Mr. Miller was working to convert the cemetery information into a digital format, so that interested me," Lyliston said. "This has been a good opportunity for me to advance my skillset. We're now working to build a web page so people can view the cemetery and search for information about those who were buried there."

In other projects, biochemistry and biology FUSE teams are examining how stress factors may affect the offspring of parasitic wasps, and the ability of northern mockingbirds to recognize human faces.

Aided by Drs. Meg Smith and Erin Barding, Andrew Shirley is testing to determine whether stress factors such as infection and heat can affect the number of soldier wasps that are produced when the wasps parasitize their host caterpillar.

Dr. Janice Crook-Hill and students Nadia Tinoco and Jessica Stehlin are studying northern mockingbirds in research that emulates a study that determined American crows could recognize individual human faces, and would become more aggressive toward people they recognized.

A psychology team led by Dr. Kelly Cate, assistant professor of psychological science, is examining how women's physical appearances change during the ovulation cycle. Two of their recorded observations included significant changes in how men rated photos of the women on an attractiveness scale, and the size of the women's upper lip.

Dr. Chuck Robertson, professor of psychology and coordinator of the Gerontology Program, is working with students Ansley Lawson and Birggita Alm to better understand collaborative memory.

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