I currently teach several Biology majors courses at Keene State College including BIO 345 Animal Behavior, BIO 333 Invertebrate Zoology, and BIO 210 Ecology. All of these courses are taught with an integrated lab-lecture approach allowing flexibility in course content and lab/field activities. I also incorporate online components in my courses in order to maximize lab and field experiences during class. My non-majors courses include the newly designed blended learning class, INBIO 300 Evolution and Human Behavior, and INBIO 104 Tropical Marine Biology. The Tropical Marine Biology course includes a field trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands where students explore coral reefs and associated marine environments through SCUBA diving, snorkeling and kayaking. See the course website for more information.
I have used spiders as a model system for addressing questions in behavioral ecology for many years. Most of my recent work has been an in depth investigation of the foraging strategies of spiders in the genus Neospintharus. Neospintharus trigonum is a common species in the forests of New Hampshire. This species is unique as it exhibits a wide repertoire of foraging behaviors including kleptoparasitism (food theft), host predation, commensalistic scavenging, web stealing and even the construction of its own web for independent foraging. My students and I have worked on examining the variety of environmental, genetic and developmental factors that may influence foraging strategy. Some of our work has shown that N. trigonumshows differences in behavior at different developmental stages, even if relative host size and food levels don’t change. These developmental changes in behavior may translate into an ontogenetic niche shift (such as switching hosts at certain instars). However, the relative size of the host can also influence foraging behavior indicating that there is some plasticity in these ontogenetic shifts. Furthermore, since the relative abundance of N. trigonum has an impact on host abundance, these shifts may play a substantial role in influencing population dynamics. Our recent work is focusing on the specific impacts of these web invaders on their hosts, including host web relocation. Several Keene State College students involved in this research have presented their work at the Keene State College academic excellence conference as well as at national meetings of the American Arachnological Society and the Animal Behavior Society.
Coral Reef Monitoring
I have been teaching Introductory Tropical Marine Biology on the island of Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands since 2001. The more time I spent on Provo, the more I realized the importance of doing conservation work on the island. Together with my colleague in the Biology department, Dr. Scott Strong, we began a reef monitoring program in 2008.
While one of the goals of our program is to collect annual data on the abundance and quality of marine life, another important goal is educating and involving local youth. And so as we began our monitoring efforts, we included students from the Clement Howell High School on Providenciales. These students practice snorkeling, learn basics in reef monitoring, fish and invertebrate identification, and coral reef ecology. Using standardized protocols from the
international organization, Reef Check, we have surveyed the number and size of certain indicator fish species such as groupers, snappers, parrotfish, butterfly fish, moray eels, and grunts. We have also counted the number of lobster, banded coral shrimp, sea urchins, triton, flamingo tongue snails and gorgonian corals. Finally, we census the type of substrate at every half meter point such as sand, rock, coral, sponge, etc. We also take note of any damage, trash, coral disease and bleaching.
The results of our data do not show major changes over the last 4 years, but there is a considerable lack of larger fish and some important invertebrates, and an overabundance of other species that have lost natural predators. Additionally, the explosion of lionfish is obvious here as in other parts of Provo and TCI in general. This reef and the adjacent seagrass bed is heavily snorkeled by visiting tourists, who enter from the beach and from boats that drop snorkelers into the water at the deeper end. While snorkeling traffic is heavy, perhaps the greatest impact on the reef has been from sand that has been kicked up into the water from various development projects nearby. Large amounts of suspended sand can cloud the visibility and end up settling over the reef which is very detrimental to the corals and other marine life there. Since I have been snorkeling on this reef since 2001, my anecdotal observations indicate that there has been a fair degree of decline over the past 10 years. The good news is that this reef is still in OK shape, but that we need to continue to work to protect it.