Thursday, September 22, 2016

URSP Student Jonathan Clark Researches The Affects of Sounds Produced by Major Highways on Grassland Bird Species

The URSP program has allowed me to develop the skills I need to pursue a career as ecological researcher. I have gained experience in all aspects of research, from writing a grant, to developing a project, to interpreting and presenting the results. This experience has put me one step forward on a path to pursuing my passion of studying avian ecology.

Growing up in a small town in the mountains of Virginia, I quickly developed a fascination with wildlife. As a child, I left no stone unturned searching frantically for anything that creeped, crawled, or slithered. This passion has stayed with me throughout my life. My interest in birds specifically grew out of a childhood obsession with dinosaurs. Once I discovered that birds were their living descendants, I became infatuated. This love of birds is ultimately what inspired me to pursue an education in conservation biology.

In the spring I had the chance to take an ornithology class with Dr. David Luther and affirmed that it is my definitive aspiration to study birds and determine how to prevent their extinctions at the hands of human activities. I spent this summer working under the guidance of Dr. Luther to understand how grassland bird species are affected by the sounds produced by major highways. Grassland birds are an understudied group that is in decline across North America. Determining how human disturbance affects grassland bird species is a crucial step in understanding how to protect and conserve viable habitats, which are on the decline as urban sprawl continues to spread.

We collected data at Manassas National Battlefield Park on the territory size and song quality of two target species to determine how sound level is affecting their reproductive behaviors. We also collected data on community composition throughout the park and determined how it was related to sound level. By increasing the knowledge of how anthropogenic sound affects birds we hope to make it possible to make ecologically conscious decision as Northern Virginia continues to develop.