Systems check for planet Earth
A PLAGUE ON NORTH AMERICAN BATS • WHEN SCIENCE IS FUN AND GAMES
ugaresearch is published by the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Georgia. The magazine is printed with funds from the University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit foundation that supports UGA research. Michael F. Adams, President Jere Morehead, Senior VP for Academic Affairs/Provost David C. Lee, Vice President for Research Terry Hastings, Director, Research Communications
12 Coweeta Lab:
Systems check for planet Earth
By Charles Seabrook
A plague on North American bats
ugaresearch staff Editor: Helen Fosgate (email@example.com) Circulation, Media Shelf: Laurie Anderson Contributing editor: Steve Marcus Design: Lindsay Robinson/UGA Public Affairs Photo Liaison: Paul Efland/UGA
Writers: Charles Seabrook, Laurie Anderson, Helen Fosgate, Sam Fahmy, Sandi Martin, Beth Gavrilles, Kirk McAlpin, Julie Sartor, David Bradford. Photographers: Thomas Nix, Paul Efland, Justin Brown, Peter Frey, Andrew Tucker, Craig Stihler, Todd Pierson, Anne Sourdril, Liangyi Rao, Bob Scott, Craig Stickney. On the cover: Cullasaja Falls, N.C. photo by Ted Gragson.
Articles may be reprinted with permission. For additional copies of the magazine or address changes, please contact Research Communications at 706-583-0599 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Access the electronic edition at www.researchmagazine.uga.edu. POSTMASTER: Please send address changes to Research Magazine, OVPR, University of Georgia, 708 Boyd GSRC, Athens, GA 30602-7411. Call 706-583-0599; or email email@example.com. In compliance with federal law, including the provisions of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the University of Georgia does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, or military service in its administration of educational policies, programs, or activities; its admissions policies; scholarship and loan programs; athletic or other University-administered programs; or employment. In addition, the University does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation consistent with the University non-discrimination policy. Inquiries or complaints should be directed to the director of the Equal Opportunity Office, Peabody Hall, 290 South Jackson Street, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602. Telephone 706-542-7912 (V/TDD). Fax 706-542-2822
In studying the ecology of the Coweeta region, UGA scientists assess the effects of urbanization and climate change on the natural world.
By Helen Fosgate White-nose syndrome is spreading through states and devastating colonies of bats from Canada to North Carolina.
When science is fun and games By Laurie Anderson UGAâ€™s interactive 3D animations engage students in learning some of biologyâ€™s core concepts.
Vol 40, No. 1 ISSN 1099-7458 ISSN 1099-7458
Want to support UGA research? If you would like to support research featured in this issue, contact Keith Oelke, executive director of corporate and foundation relations at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Study finds massive discharge of gases into Gulf from BP accident
Report: Georgia’s forests provide huge, and measurable, ecological benefits
As coastal fisheries decline, so does a major source of ecosystem nutrients
Mother’s diet high in trans fats doubles risk of fat breastfed babies
A rapid diagnostic test for “walking” pneumonia
Study aims to better prepare students for STEM careers
Thiamine therapy may harm breast-cancer patients
Waist circumference best indicator of children’s health risk, study finds
The Carr File
To see back issues of ugaresearch, visit us online at: www.researchmagazine.uga.edu
Martha Carr talks about her research on math literacy rates among students in the United States and what she has learned that may help improve their math education.
A sampling of books, recordings and other creative works by UGA faculty, staff, and students.
Health care reform isn’t pretty
The requirement for everyone to purchase health insurance may be distasteful to some, but it should remain in force if health care reform is to succeed.
Gulf Oil Spill Update
Study finds massive discharge of gases into Gulf from BP accident In the first study of its kind, researchers have found that not only liquid oil but also up to 500,000 tons of gaseous hydrocarbons, such as methane and pentane, were emitted into the Gulf of Mexico last year as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil blowout. The authors concluded that such a large gas discharge—at concentrations 75,000 times the norm— could result in small-scale zones of “extensive and persistent depletion of oxygen” as microbes degrade the hydrocarbons and consume oxygen in the process. Led by UGA Professor of Marine Sciences Samantha Joye, the study appeared in the March 2011 issue of Nature Geoscience. Her coauthors included Ian MacDonald of Florida State University, Ira Leifer of the University of California-Santa Barbara, and Vernon Asper of the University of Southern Mississippi. Gases are normally not quantified for oil spills, but the researchers noted that given the extent of this incident, documenting the amount of hydrocarbon gases released would be critical to understanding the discharge’s true extent and potential impacts on the deep oceanic systems. For example, some of the gaseous hydrocarbons emitted could have significant implications for marine life and, ultimately, for human health. The researchers said that the 1,480-meter depth—nearly one mile—of the blowout was highly significant because deep-sea processes, at high pressure and low temperature, had entrapped the released gaseous hydrocarbons in a deep (1,000-1,300m) layer of the water column. “We’re not talking about extensive hypoxic areas offshore in the Gulf of Mexico,” Joye explained. “But the microbial oxidation of the [hydrocarbons] will remove oxygen from the system for quite a while because the time scale for the replenishment of oxygen at that depth is many decades.” Contact Samantha Joye at: email@example.com — Sam Fahmy 2
Report: Georgia’s forests provide huge, and measurable, ecological benefits A new study shows that Georgia’s 22 million acres of privately owned forestland provide the state with benefits—above and beyond their value for timber, forest products, and recreation— worth an estimated $37 billion annually. A team led by UGA’s Rebecca Moore focused on six types of ecosystem benefits: gas and climate regulation, water quantity and quality, soil formation and stability, pollination, wildlife habitat, and aesthetics and culture. “People value these things,” said Moore, an assistant professor of natural resource economics at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. “But because people don’t go out and buy them, their true value is overlooked.” Her study, which marks the first time that researchers have analyzed the indirect benefits of Georgia’s privately owned forests, was funded by the Georgia Forestry Foundation. “Other studies have shown the value of wood and fiber manufacturing in the state,” said Steve McWilliams, executive director of the foundation. “This study adds up the value of the services we
receive from the standing forests, and they are many.” Moore and her collaborators, who included assistant professor Jeffrey Hepinstall-Cymerman and graduate students Tiffany Williams and Eduardo Rodriguez, identified key forest characteristics that affect ecosystem benefits and then calculated per-acre values for different types of forest. The team found that these values varied widely—from $200 per acre up to $13,000 per acre—depending on the location and characteristics of the parcel. “We receive these benefits whether we own forestland or not, and many people think they are free,” said Moore. “But we have to invest in the forests to keep them viable and productive. As we lose forestland, we also risk losing their benefits.” See the report at http://www.warnell.uga.edu/news/wpcontent/uploads/2011/02/Final-Report-1-24-11.pdf. Contact Rebecca Moore at: firstname.lastname@example.org — Sandi Martin Spring 2011
As coastal fisheries decline, so does a major source of ecosystem nutrients A new study has shown that reducing the population of large marine predators through overfishing and habitat alteration also diminishes a vital source of nutrients for coastal ecosystems. Published in the March 2011 issue of the journal Ecological Applications, the study showed that the influence of these species goes far beyond their role as predators. “The effects are not just top-down,” said Jacob Allgeier, a doctoral student in the UGA Odum School of Ecology, who led the study with ecologist Craig Layman of Florida International University. “When you eliminate these large predators, you also eliminate a major source of nutrients for algae and plants in the food web, especially in tropical and subtropical coastal regions.” The team of researchers, which included UGA ecologist Amy Rosemond, worked at study sites on Andros Island, the largest island in the Bahamas. They
compared populations of gray snapper— an abundant and economically important species—from areas that experienced varying levels of human impact, specifically overfishing and habitat alteration. One group of sites was located on the west coast of Andros, an area with virtually no human impacts. The other sites were on the island’s east coast, home to most of Andros’s population, where they were affected by habitat fragmentation (in the form of roads that cut off interior wetlands from the ocean) and fishing. The study sites, deep tidal creek mouths lined with mangrove trees, were otherwise similar. Allgeier said that tropical and subtropical coastal waters are typically low in nutrients. “That’s why places like the Bahamas have such clear water,” he said. “That’s also why the fish are so important there. They recycle the nutrients they take in from the food that they eat, making them available for lower-level organisms, like
algae, that form the base of the food web.” The researchers found that significantly higher fish densities at the sites that experienced no human impacts led to much greater quantities of nutrients being recycled there: 4.6 times more nitrogen and 5.4 times more phosphorus. They also found that the size of the fish differed greatly between affected and unaffected sites. The latter had 11 times more snapper that were over 25 centimeters in length than did the former. According to Rosemond, reduced fish size is a hallmark of high fishing pressure. Other study coauthors included Craig Dahlgren of the Perry Institute of Marine Science and Lauren Yeager of Florida International University. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation. Contact Jacob Allgeier at: email@example.com — Beth Gavrilles
Mother’s diet high in trans fats doubles risk of fat breastfed babies
Infants whose mothers consume more than 4.5 grams of trans fats per day while breastfeeding are twice as likely to be fat than infants whose mothers ingest lesser amounts, according to a UGA study published in the November 2010 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The authors also reported that mothers who consume more than 4.5 grams of trans fats per day increase their own risk of excessive fat accumulation by nearly six times, independent of pre-pregnancy weight. This finding suggests that trans fat intake could have a more significant weight-gain effect on breastfeeding mothers than it does at other times in women’s lives, Anderson said. The researchers investigated a variety of fatty acids, but “trans fats stuck out as a predictor of increased adiposity in both mothers and babies,” said study coauthor Alex Anderson, a nutritionist in UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences. It is important to measure body fat, he said, because “it’s not just a person’s weight but the amount of body fat that is an important measure of cardiovascular risk.” Anderson noted that while breast milk is optimal for the health of infants, it can contain high levels of fat when this substance is prominent in the mother’s diet. He and his colleagues studied three different groups: mothers who only breast fed their infants, those who only used formula, and those who used a combination of breast milk and formula. The research included 96 women, many of whom were highly educated, non-Hispanic, and white; the scientists note that the study should be replicated in a larger and more diverse group. Moreover, “it would help to be able to follow the child from when the mother is pregnant, through birth, and then into adolescence,” said Anderson. “That way we could study what infant feeding and maternal diet during breastfeeding have to do with the recent epidemic of childhood obesity.” Contact Alex Anderson at: firstname.lastname@example.org — Kirk McAlpin
A rapid diagnostic test for “walking” pneumonia UGA researchers have developed a nanotechnology-based technique that can diagnose a common type of pneumonia within minutes, potentially replacing present tests that can take several days to yield results. The scientists, whose findings were published October 26, 2010, in the online journal PLoS ONE, were able to detect Mycoplasma pneumoniae, which causes atypical or “walking” pneumonia, in throat-swab specimens with over 97 percent accuracy. “If you can make a positive identification from a 10-minute test, then appropriate antibiotics can more quickly be prescribed, limiting both the consequences in that patient and the likelihood it will spread to others,” said microbiologist Duncan Krause, director of UGA’s Faculty of Infectious Diseases and leader of the research team. He and his colleagues built upon an existing technology called surfaceenhanced Raman spectroscopy, which 6
works by detecting spectral signatures of near-infrared laser light as it scatters off a biological specimen. They were able to enhance the resulting Raman signals by using silver nanorod arrays. Krause compared the nanorod array— developed by collaborator Yiping Zhao, director of the UGA Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center—to a brush with densely packed bristles, where each of the tiny silver rods extends out at a specific angle. Bacteria from a clinical sample penetrate among the bristles, from which the spectral signatures produced by the laser are amplified and then analyzed by a computer program. Krause noted that infections produced by M. pneumoniae are quite common. The bacterium is a major cause of respiratory disease and the leading cause of pneumonia in older children and young adults. “Walking pneumonia feels like a bad chest cold that will not go away,” he said. “It can persist for weeks or months if not
diagnosed promptly. Such delays can cause permanent damage to the lungs, increase the likelihood of other complications, and continue the transmission of the infection to others.” The researchers’ technology can be reduced to fit inside a briefcase, although current testing is done only in a laboratory setting. “Our hope is that when we begin to explore the capabilities of this technology, it can be applied to point-of-care testing,” Krause said. “Then the impact may become truly significant.” He is also optimistic that the platform will be helpful in detecting other infectious agents in clinical samples. Funding for the research was provided by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the National Science Foundation, and the Georgia Research Alliance. Contact Duncan Krause at: email@example.com — Kirk McAlpin
Study aims to better prepare students for STEM careers Educators commonly believe that training college students to think across disciplines is essential to success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. UGA’s Ji Shen strongly agrees. But he notes that while graduates today are expected to have interdisciplinary knowledge, the science education they receive often misses the mark—and likely fails to meet the needs of STEM-related enterprises. “Most students develop only a fragmented understanding of science,” said Shen, a researcher in math and science education at UGA’s College of Education. To help remedy the situation, he is directing a new study, funded by a twoyear $397,425 grant from the National Science Foundation, which he hopes will better prepare college students for STEM careers. Shen’s team is designing tools to help college students integrate scientific
knowledge and solve complex problems across disciplines, and the researchers are particularly targeting fundamental biological processes, such as diffusion, filtration, and osmosis, in the context of physiology. They aim to make judicious use of state-of-the-art computerized modeling and Web-based tools, with complex biological processes often being modeled through dynamic computer animations. Such pursuits are not only up-to-date but also highly interdisciplinary. “For example,” said Shen, “neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system in terms of its molecular, cellular, developmental, structural, functional, evolutionary, computational, and medical aspects. It involves multiple traditional disciplines, including mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, computer science and medicine.” In fact, the team is targeting students studying
several of these disciplines as well. Shen’s colleagues in the study include faculty from five departments across three UGA colleges: Steve Oliver, Shawn Glynn, and Shannon Huang at the College of Education; Tom Robertson (co-principal investigator), James Moore, and Wan-I Oliver Li at the College of Veterinary Medicine; and Craig Wiegert and Kathrin Stanger-Hall at the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Shen also has a second NSF grant, which will test the effectiveness of modeling-based instruction in K-12 teaching—an innovative approach that he believes can improve students’ science learning in elementary and secondary schools. His two-year study will determine how the approach can be implemented in classrooms across the nation. Contact Ji Shen at: firstname.lastname@example.org — Julie Sartor
Thiamine therapy may harm breast-cancer patients A new UGA study indicates that a common vitamin used to treat breast-cancer patients might actually be harmful. The study, by Jason Zastre (above left), an assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy, was published in the December 2010 issue of Cancer Biology and Therapy. Zastre’s research involves the uptake and roles of thiamine, or vitamin B1, which is essential for proper functioning of the heart, muscles, and nervous system. It also helps the body’s cells convert carbohydrates, including glucose, into energy. Moreover, “supplemental thiamine therapy is often recommended when breastcancer patients suffer from anemia caused by their chemotherapy treatment,” said Zastre, who has received funding for the past three years from the Georgia Cancer Coalition. “Thiamine maintains red blood-cell function so that the body can ward off adverse effects that result from the thiamine deficiencies commonly associated with cancer.” Supplemental thiamine in advanced breast-cancer patients, however, might prove to be harmful—and in fact promote disease progression—his research suggests. In solid tumors, such as breast cancer, malignant-cell proliferation can lead to an underdeveloped and dysfunctional vascular network throughout the tumor. The result is a condition, called hypoxia, in which the cancer cells are subjected to reduced oxygen supply, given that they are not in proximity to blood vessels. 8
Such hypoxic stress causes a metabolic shift within the cells, which then require additional nutrients, such as thiamine, in order for them to adapt and survive in the low-oxygen environment. Because thiamine’s ability to enter cells depends on transporter proteins, Zastre has hypothesized that if the number of thiamine transporters increases in hypoxic cells, the amount of thiamine able to enter the cells should also increase. In fact, “In our lab we observed that the metabolic shift associated with hypoxic cells enhanced the expression and function of thiamine transporters, which allowed for a greater increase in thiamine uptake than is seen in nonhypoxic breast-cancer cells,” said Zastre. Thiamine may then promote growth in these hypoxic cancer cells in much the same way it does in healthy tissue, he noted. However, more research is needed. “The big questions are ‘What does increased thiamine transport and delivery to hypoxic breast-cancer cells contribute to malignant progression?’ and ‘How can we exploit this knowledge for therapeutic benefit?’” Zastre said. Meanwhile, given thiamine’s potential as an essential cofactor in the metabolic shift that occurs in hypoxic cancer cells, thiamine might not be an appropriate supplementation for advanced solidtumor cancer patients. Contact Jason Zastre at: email@example.com — Julie Sartor
Waist circumference best indicator of children’s health risk, study finds
A new long-term study by researchers at the University of Georgia, the Menzies Research Institute (Hobart, Australia), and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (Melbourne, Australia) suggests that waist circumference is a superior measure of a child’s risk of cardiovascular problems and metabolic disease (such as diabetes) later in life. The researchers, whose results were published in the January 2011 issue of the International Journal of Obesity, found that children with waist-circumference values in the top 25 percent for their age and gender were five to six times more likely than children with waist measurements in the bottom 25 percent to develop metabolic syndrome by early adulthood. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of key risk factors associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Lead author Michael Schmidt, a kinesiologist at UGA’s College of Education, said the findings help clinicians by providing a simple and cost-effective way to identify children most at risk for future health problems. The study used data collected as part of a 20-year follow-up of 2,188 Australians who had participated in a national childhood health and fitness survey in 1985, when they were 7 to 15 years old. As adults, they then attended one of 34 study clinics held across Australia between 2004 and 2006, where they underwent a range of health and fitness assessments. Schmidt explained that most prior studies of the long-term consequences of childhood obesity have used the body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight to height, as the primary measure of childhood obesity. While useful, BMI doesn’t distinguish between fat and nonfat weight or indicate where the fat is lo-
cated. In contrast, the waist-circumference measure reflects the extent of abdominal fat, which can be especially detrimental to cardio-metabolic health. While he recognizes that introducing the waist-circumference measure in schools could be controversial because of potential stigmatization, Schmidt believes it would provide a better opportunity for the early detection of children at higher risk of future health problems. “I believe most parents would want to know if their child was five to six times more likely to have early cardio-metabolic health problems,” he said. Such risk may actually be even greater: Schmidt noted that in 1985 obesity levels in Australian children were not as extreme as they are in today’s children. Contact Michael Schmidt at: firstname.lastname@example.org — Kirk McAlpin
MULTIMEDIA Be There for Me: Collective Memories of LGBTQ Youth in High School produced by Anneliese Singh, assistant professor, and Corey Johnson, associate professor, counseling and human development services, UGA College of Education (Mindful Creations, 2009) www.georgiasafeschoolscoalition.org Shot primarily at Clarke Central High School, Athens, Georgia, this documentary addresses problems of inschool bullying of adolescents because of their sexual orientation. Copies of the DVD may be ordered from the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition or Corey Johnson (email@example.com).
mediashelf R I C H A R D N E U P E RT
The Threat on the Horizon by Loch K. Johnson, Regents Professor of International Affairs, UGA School of Public and International Affairs (Oxford University Press, 2011) Johnson, who in the late 1990s participated in a landmark presidential commission report that warned of critical gaps in the nation’s intelligencegathering agencies, provides an insider’s view as to why the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003 caught the U.S. by surprise.
Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876 by Ronald E. Butchart, Aderhold Distinguished Professor and head, elementary and social studies education, UGA College of Education (University of North Carolina Press, 2010) From a painstakingly assembled database of more than 11,600 individuals who taught African Americans during and after the Civil War, Butchart reveals that white and black Southerners played a greater role in the education of freed slaves than previously thought, overturning long-held assumptions about the regional, racial, and gender composition of these instructors.
French Animation History by Richard Neupert, Wheatley Professor of the Arts, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor and professor of film studies, UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) While American and Japanese studios have dominated the animation field for decades with a few recognizable styles, the French have quietly created a diverse selection of charming, challenging, and visually original films. This detailed history, the first to focus exclusively on French works, includes more than 80 color and black and white photos—starting with the world’s first animated stories created by Emile Reynaud in 1892. (Take that, Mickey!)
Conversations with Cosmo: At Home With an African Grey Parrot by Betty Jean Craige, University Professor of Comparative Literature and director of UGA’s Willson Center for Humanities and Arts (Sherman Asher Publishing, 2010) www.cosmotalks.com Cosmo, a female parrot, knew more than 100 words by age 6—then began making up her own phrases (“Telephone for bird!” was her first joke). In this amiable and insightful memoir, Craige captures the wonder of dialog with a nonhuman as she describes the bird’s sense of humor and selfawareness. The CD version may be the only audiobook narrated in part by a bird.
TOOLS IveGot1 developed by Chuck Bargeron, public service assistant, UGA Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health (iTunes, 2010 ) itunes.apple.com/us/app/ivegot1/id381326170?mt=8# Need to identify that snake that just slithered across your path? If you live in Florida, this handy field guide can help you identify 15 native and nonnative reptiles. Users will soon be able to transmit a photo with the species identification to wildlife officials to help with tracking and control. It is available free to all Apple iPhone users and a version for the Motorola Droid is in the works. Tools for the Toolbox: Business News You Can Use by Debbie Graham, public service associate, UGA Small Business Development Center www.georgiasbdc.org/index.aspx Graham’s 22 years of consulting with small business owners in southeast Georgia provides plenty of practical advice in short audio podcasts such as Surviving a Cash Flow Crisis, Marketing on the Internet, and Getting a Business Loan, among others. AUDIO Declaration Anthem composed by Steve Dancz, director of jazz studies, UGA Hugh Hodgson School of Music stevedancz.com
Handbook of School Improvement: How High-Performing Principals Create High-Performing Schools by Jo and Joseph Blase, professors emeriti of workforce education, leadership and social foundations; and Dana Phillips, former faculty member, UGA College of Education (Corwin Books, 2010) This comprehensive guide presents real-life strategies and effective, research-based practices of 20 successful principals from a wide range of urban and rural schools.
Send suggestions for Media Shelf of work by UGA personnel to Laurie Anderson at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watched by 111 million people in the U.S., Declaration Anthem was created as the soundtrack to the short film Tribute to the Declaration of Independence. The seven-minute piece features a trumpet solo performed by master’s student Chuck Arnold. Purchase of a download—available via Apple iTunes or Amazon.com—supports the Wounded Warrior Project (www.woundedwarriorproject. org), a charity for injured veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. A History of Rock Music, 5th edition by Stephen K. Valdez, associate professor of music history, UGA Hugh Hodgson School of Music (Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2010) www.kendallhunt.com/store-product. aspx?id=21265 This online-only, interactive textbook, designed to accompany a course on rock history, encourages deeper understanding of a popular music form that has often been at the forefront of social change. Packaged with the digital book is access to a discussion board, 12 active listening assignments, and a four-month subscription to an online music library of more than six million songs.
UGA students conduct surveys on one of nearly 60 creeks sampled to get a â€œsnapshotâ€? of the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the stream. Photo by Craig StiCkney
Systems check for planet Earth
In studying the ecology of the Coweeta region, UGA scientists assess the effects of urbanization and climate change on the natural world.
By Charles Seabrook
UGA hydrologist Rhett Jackson (above, middle) and students measure stream width as part of an effort to describe the physical properties of the stream channel. Researchers use chambers to measure respiration and photosynthesis in streams (facing page, bottom).
another on small mammals. As part of his duties, Love leads visiting scientists and students on tours—and a must stop, given its renown, is the canopy-covered creek. The findings from the leaf-litter experiments, Love noted, became vital in helping land managers learn about the importance of leaf litter and wood to restore and protect streams damaged from poor grazing, farming, and logging practices, as well as other harmful practices.
Its research output has never waned
Such pioneering experiments and other landmark research at Coweeta over seven decades has made it a Mecca for students, researchers, and others engaged in forestry and ecology. Set among forested slopes and high peaks, it is a 5,400-acre outdoor research preserve established by the U.S. Forest Service in 1934 to study how forests affect the quantity and quality of water that flows through them—and how the system responds to natural and human-induced disturbances. Covered by a deciduous forest, the tract encompasses dozens of small watersheds; has deep and well-drained soils, solid bedrock, and dense vegetation; and receives about 80 inches of rainfall annually—ideal conditions for studying water flow through a forest. In 1948, the tract, originally called the Coweeta Experimental Forest, was renamed the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory to reflect its emphasis on hydrology, or the study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth.
Photo by brian kloePPel
he little creek rushing over moss-covered rocks in a mountain ravine in western North Carolina is typical of streams in the Southern Appalachians—save for one thing: A curious net-like canopy stretches several hundred feet over the streambed. Standing alongside the roaring creek, Jason Love explained to some visitors the structure’s purpose. It was erected, he said, during the 1990s for some of the most famous experiments ever conducted here at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory—nestled in the rugged Nantahala National Forest near Otto, N.C., a few miles from the Georgia border. The canopy’s purpose, Love said, was to prevent leaves and other natural debris from falling into the spring-fed creek. After several years of leaf exclusion, aquatic insects, salamanders, and myriad other animal species declined dramatically. The startling results helped University of Georgia ecologist emeritus Judy Meyer and colleagues determine that fallen leaves and wood are essential to a stream’s health. Until then, scientists were unclear about the crucial role that “leaf litter” plays in maintaining a stream’s productive food web. “It was cutting-edge research,” said Love, who helps coordinate research studies at the Coweeta lab. Since the late 1960s, UGA has had a prominent scientific presence at Coweeta. This relationship started when the late UGA professor Eugene Odum used the site for two studies, one on song birds, and
Set among the forested slopes and high peaks of the rugged Nantahala National Forest near Otto, N.C., the 5,400-acre Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory has shown the immense value of natural forests in filtering and protecting water quality.
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Photo by thomaS o. nix Photo by. liangyi rao Photo by bob SCot t
Much of what is known today about the hydrology of forested watersheds was discovered at Coweeta. The early experiments showed, among other things, that a forest’s complex array of trees, canopies, shrubs, ground covers, and roots slows runoff from rain and snow, and that the water is purified as it trickles through the soil and aquifers. Slowing runoff also mitigates floods and erosion, helping to keep lifechoking sediment out of streams. Other key investigations revealed that forests could be managed for several uses, including logging, without ruining its most precious product—clean water. And a series of studies that compared forest-cutting methods showed that the flow of pure water from a forest could be increased by almost a half million gallons per acre per year without increasing soil erosion or flooding. The valuable research output has never waned. Principal among Coweeta’s current efforts is the UGA-led Coweeta Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) project, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Established in 1980, the Coweeta LTER site was one of six originally funded. There are now 26—including one on the Georgia coast—covering various ecosystems across the country. A guiding principle is that impacts on landscape from ecological changes—natural and man-made—can best be appreciated from years, even decades, of research. The Coweeta LTER scientists believe that if they understood and could reliably predict the impacts of climate change and human population growth in the Southern Appalachians, they could help devise strategies to mitigate—even prevent—potential upheavals in the region and elsewhere. Such impacts include loss of native species, declines in biological diversity, increased frequency of droughts and floods, and diminished flow of clean water.
A bigger “lab” that contains people
To continue its support of the Coweeta project, the National Science Foundation in 2008 awarded a $6.7-million grant to a consortium of universities headed by UGA in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service. UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources is the administrative unit for the grant, which extended the life of the Coweeta LTER project. Having now been funded without interruption for more than 30 years, it is one of North America’s oldest continuous environmental studies. Eleven UGA faculty members as well as collaborators at a number of other universities are involved in research funded by the grant. These institutions include Duke University, Mars Hill College, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, North Carolina State University, The University of
Outreach and education are important to Coweeta LTER’s mission. (Top) Coweeta site manager Jason Love talks about water quality with a student from nearby Hayesville Elementary School. (Middle) Researchers assess the health of a female Northern Cardinal. (Bottom) Coweeta scientist Wayne Swank checks solar radiation rates. Coweeta has continuous climate data dating back to 1934.
“Hydrology is still the foundation of Coweeta’s research, however, we can’t mimic here what is happenng outside the lab—subdivisions, Walmarts, septic systems, etc.—so we must move outside Coweeta into a bigger ‘lab’ that contains people.”
Photo by anne SourDril
Population boom: Humans are the driving force behind land use changes in Southern Appalachia. Scientists, like anthroplogist and lead PI Ted Gragson (below), are evaluating the decisionmaking process behind these rapid changes and the potential consequences of development on steep mountain slopes. Photo by Paul efflanD/uga
Wisconsin, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and Yale University. Forest Service researchers based at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory are also involved. Each collaborator brings relevant expertise to the project. UGA faculty members include Ted Gragson, Nik Heynen, David Leigh and Don Nelson of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences; Carolyn Dehring from the Terry College of Business; Jeff Heppinstall-Cymerman, John Maerz, Rebecca Moore, and Rhett Jackson of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources; and Jackie Mohan and Catherine Pringle of the Odum School of Ecology. While much of the Coweeta LTER work is still focused on the Coweeta basin, the project is no longer confined to the boundaries of the outdoor lab. It expanded several years ago to include areas outside the preserve, including the French Broad River and Little Tennessee River basins, the latter with headwaters in North Georgia. In all, the project covers 60 counties in Southern Appalachia’s Blue Ridge province, which extends into Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. The reason for going beyond Coweeta is simple—if researchers are to understand the impacts of human interactions with the landscape, they have to go to where those processes are occurring. “Hydrology is still the foundation of Coweeta’s research,” said Love. “However, we can’t mimic here what is happening outside the lab—subdivisions, Walmarts, septic systems, etc.—so we must move outside Coweeta into a bigger ‘lab’ that contains people. People are the driving force behind changes in land use and subsequent changes in water quality and quantity.” That helps explain why an anthropologist, Gragson, is the project’s lead principal investigator. “Southern Appalachia provides a near-perfect opportunity for a natural experiment,” he said. “By significantly strengthening the social-science component of the project and moving outside the experimental watersheds of the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory into the surrounding areas, we will be able to focus on how urbanization and climate change are affecting this priceless part of America.”
Photo by thomaS o. nix
Mountain-side development threatens not only water quality, but also the region’s rare plants, birds, and amphibians.
Resources under severe strain
Urbanization refers to the movement of people—most of them in the upper middle class—beyond the cities and suburbs into the larger semi-rural areas around them. Gragson and other scientists talk of the Southern Appalachians and adjacent regions morphing into sprawling “megalopolises” in coming decades. One such megalopolis in the making stretches from Birmingham to Charlotte and is centered on Atlanta—what some casually call “Charlantingham.” Many of this region’s cities and towns depend on the Southern Appalachians for drinking water. Most of metro Atlanta’s water, for instance, comes from the Chattahoochee River, whose headwaters are in the mountainous Chattahoochee National Forest that borders the Nantahala forest. “With their abundant precipitation and dense stream network, the Southern Appalachians are the water towers for the Southeast,” Gragson noted. He and others point out, however, that at a time when population pressure is sparking demands for more water from the “water towers,” the greater is the potential for serious shortages because of climate change. The capacity of the mountain systems to meet growing water needs is already under severe strain. For example, in a bitter water war involving Georgia, Alabama, and Florida over the Chattahoochee basin,
a federal judge has given Atlanta until 2012 to find new sources of drinking water. And North Carolina and South Carolina recently settled a rancorous dispute over the Catawba River’s water. Like the Chattahoochee, the Catawba also has its headwaters in the steeply terrained Southern Appalachians. Headwater streams, of course, flow into bigger streams that merge to form rivers—a fact of geography that bears directly on the Coweeta studies. By moving off site, the Coweeta LTER project is applying the knowledge gained from years of studying small, headwater streams to understanding region-wide watersheds. Questions being pursued by hydrologist Jackson, ecologist Pringle, and geographer Leigh include: How do land-use changes upstream—such as more vacation homes, more subdivisions, new dams, and extensive tree cutting—affect water quantity and quality downstream and throughout the region? Are upstream landowners fully aware of the downstream consequences of their land disturbances? Is more government oversight needed to deal with land-use changes?
Coweeta as a surrogate for Earth
In addition to water quantity and quality, the region’s tremendous biological diversity also is at risk from the doublewhammy stresses of climate change and
urbanization. More than 2,000 vascular plant species live in Southern Appalachia, making it one of the most botanically rich regions in the temperate zone. Some 345 fish species inhabit its streams. And with more than 50 species of salamanders, Southern Appalachia is a global hotspot for these amphibians—more species than in any of the world’s other temperate regions. Herpetologist Maerz closely monitors salamanders in several of Coweeta’s small watersheds to determine how they might respond to changes in land cover and climate. The animals are highly sensitive to changes that cause siltation of streams or that affect moisture, temperature, and light penetration to the forest floor. In effect, salamanders are “sentinel species” for ecosystem health. And it appears that climate and land use changes don’t bode well for these animals. “We’re predicting significant declines in salamander populations,” Maerz said. That in turn could jeopardize the health of streams, because salamanders play key roles in nutrient recycling. Many bird species likely will be affected as well, an issue pursued by landscape ecologist Hepinstall-Cymerman. If spring gets warmer, he explained, it will cause trees to leaf out earlier, which will affect when spring nesting birds’ primary food sources—insects and their larvae—emerge.
In effect, salamanders are “sentinel species” for ecosystem health.
If birds don’t adjust their nesting times to the change, they might not find sufficient food for their young. That may be particularly true of migrating songbirds such as warblers, tanagers, vireos, and buntings that arrive in the spring to breed. They may be on time to benefit from peak insect numbers at higher elevations, but not at lower sites. “The result could be lower chick output at lower elevations,” HepinstallCymerman said. In effect, the bird researchers, like Maerz with salamanders, are using Coweeta as a surrogate for Earth regarding climate change. In so doing, both groups of scientists are reflecting the LTER project’s overall goal of better understanding our rapidly changing world. “The results will be of considerable interest to policymakers, planners, and regulators in Southern Appalachia and the Piedmont ‘megalopolitan region’ as they struggle to maintain the properties of place that make the region both a ‘water tower’ and one of the most biodiverse temperate regions in the United States, if not the world,” said Gragson.
(Charles Seabrook, now retired, wrote science stories at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than 30 years. He is also the author of several books. His latest, about the marshes of Georgia, will be published by UGA Press later this year).
Photo by toDD PierSon/uga
For more information about the Coweeta LTER visit: www.coweeta.uga.edu.
Photo by craig Stihler
Plague on North American
“White-nose syndrome” is spreading through states and devastating colonies of bats from Canada to North Carolina.
By Helen Fosgate
Photo by PaUl eFlaND/Uga
Kevin Keel (above), a veterinary pathologist at SCWDS; and a hibernating bat (facing page) with tell-tale signs of WNS.
evin Keel opens the refrigerator, lifts out several culture samples, and sets them on the stainless-steel table. “Oh boy,” he sighs, glancing at the Petri dishes. The fuzzy, white growth on the medium confirms what he and others in the lab already feared. The samples—taken from Kentucky bats — are positive for Geomyces destructans, a fungus that is killing bats in Canada and in the U.S. from New York to North Carolina. The confirmation brings to 18 the number of states involved—and there’s no end in sight. Keel, a veterinarian and wildlife pathologist at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS, pronounced “Squid-us”) in Athens, along with colleagues Justin Brown and Lisa Last, tested more than a hundred dead bats this past winter, verifying the fungus’s spread to new states—including four in the Southeast since January. “This latest confirmation is sobering because Kentucky has a tremendous number of caves and bats—and more bat hibernacula [hibernation sites]—than anybody even knows about,” said Keel.
The fungus’s “perfect environment”
Justin Brown (above), a SCWDS research scientist, unpacks dead bats sent for testing. The samples included this tri-colored bat (below) from Kentucky.
First observed in the United States just five years ago, the fungus associated with white-nose syndrome (WNS) appears as white fuzz on the faces and wings of hibernating bats and rouses them prematurely from their winter torpor. Confused, sick—and possibly irritated by the fungus—they take wing, using up scant energy reserves when they should be holed up until warmer temperatures and ample food sources emerge in the spring. Their emaciated corpses, first found by recreational cavers and more recently by state wildlife biologists who are monitoring caves, often end up here at SCWDS, a federal-state cooperative housed in the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine. While it’s difficult to confirm the fungus’s source in the United States, Keel says the best theory at present is that it was brought from Europe by cavers or tourists who visited Howe Caverns near Albany, New York. It was there in 2006 that a caver first saw and photographed some white-nosed bats—and discovered several others dead on the cave floor. “Unlike most fungal pathogens, this one is cold-loving; it grows at temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees,” said Keel. “Unfortunately, its introduction into a cave means that it had the perfect environment to thrive and infect bats. Bats actually cool down to ambient temperatures during hibernation, and the fact that they have minimal body heat could be important to the fungus’s ability to infect them. It’s so sensitive to heat that it might not be able to grow on a warmer animal.” The syndrome has so far been confirmed in nine bat species, including two (the Indiana and the gray bat) that are already endangered. The mortality rate in some colonies has been greater than 90 percent—Keel calls WNS “the most devastating infectious wildlife disease we’ve ever seen.” And because many bats produce only one “pup” a year, scientists now fear that several once-common species may suffer a major population collapse that could wipe them out entirely in some regions. That’s a serious concern given the critical role that bats play as insect predators, consuming half their weight or more in mosquitoes and other bugs each night, many of which would otherwise eat or damage crops. A new analysis, published in the April 1, 2011, issue of Science, estimated the value of bats’ pestcontrol services in the United States alone at more than $3.7 billion a year. The report also warned that the United States will see “noticeable economic losses in the next four to five years as a result of WNS and other emerging threats to bat populations.” In addition to eating millions of insects, bats also disperse seeds and pollinate some important agricultural crops, including bananas, vanilla beans, peaches, and avocados. Their waste, called guano, provides vital nutrients in cave habitats. And composted guano is a powerful organic fertilizer. Because little is understood about how WNS actually infects bats, officials in some states have closed caves to recreational cavers, who are almost certainly helping to spread the fungus. But
Lisa Last, wildlife veterinarian, prepares a tri-colored bat for testing. She and the team have already cultured more than 100 specimens since January.
PhotoS by PaUl eFlaND/Uga
The Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) SCWDS (pronounced “Squid-us”) was founded in 1957 by the Southern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to determine the cause of widespread die-offs of whitetailed deer. Headquartered in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine, it became the first diagnostic and research service established specifically to investigate wildlife diseases. Since then, SCWDS—now a state-federal cooperative— has widened its range. SCWDS scientists, for example, performed autopsies on blackbirds that suddenly fell from the skies on January 1; it turns out that the roosting birds died when they were spooked into buildings and power lines by gun-wielding New Year’s Eve revelers. SCWDS scientists are at the center of investigations into avian influenza in waterfowl and shorebirds, methods to assess and reduce the health risks of relocating wildlife; transmission pathways of tick-borne diseases and West Nile virus in wild birds, hemorrhagic disease in whitetailed deer—and many other mysteries involving wildlife and livestock. A continuing project has been to conduct baseline disease surveys of wild mammals and birds across
the southeast. Even today, SCWDS is one of only three such labs in the country. Its formal mission is to detect causes of sickness and death in wildlife; define the impacts of diseases and parasites on wildlife populations; evaluate the interrelationships between wildlife and domestic animals, and finally, to determine the risks that wildlife pose in transmission of human diseases. SCWDS scientists also train wildlife biologists and veterinary personnel, sponsor workshops, and update administrators and lawmakers about major disease issues. SCWDS officially serves 18 states. It is funded by the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and member states. Membership gives states access to SCWDS diagnostic and investigative personnel and facilities, as well as to a broad network of its collaborators across the country. For more information, visit SCWDS online at: www.scwds.org/ Spring 2011
The map shows the spread of WNS in the U.S. and Canada since it was first detected in New York in 2006. The 2011 confirmations, which include sites in North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Kentucky, are shown in purple. Known bat hiberation areas are shown in blue-gray.
coUrteSy oF bat coNServatioN iNterNatioNal, www.batcoN.org
its spread to new states suggests that the bats themselves transmit it—and not just among their own colonies but to other bat species and hibernacula. Still, there are anomalies. “Bats often hibernate in huge colonies ear-to-ear with other species,” said Keel. And yet, some species—such as the federally listed Virginia and Ozark bigeared bats, which have been exposed—haven’t shown symptoms.
Experts collaborate in the fight Officials in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are monitoring caves but admit to feeling pretty helpless in light of the fungus’s swift march south. The state’s largest hibernacula—located in Rabun County—not far from caves with confirmed cases in North Carolina—houses some 5,000 tricolored bats. “We seriously considered closing caves here,” said DNR wildlife biologist Katrina Morris, “but cavers voiced a lot of opposition. And because we need their help with monitoring and reporting, we ultimately decided against it. Truthfully, we don’t have resources to enforce cave closures anyway, so we’re relying on education, public meetings—and articles like yours— to get the word out.” In many states, including Georgia, wildlife officials have posted information on their websites about white-nose syndrome, including how to decontaminate clothing, ropes, and other gear after caving by soaking them in disinfectants before washing. The protocols were developed by Hazel Barton, a scientist at the 24
University of Kentucky. With funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Barton and Keel are working together to identify compounds that could kill the fungus in the environment. But caves are delicate ecosystems, and Keel says that fungicides, even organic ones, could cause other problems. Funding for bat research is scarce, but scientists up and down the East Coast are patching together small grants from multiple sources or pursuing studies on their own. Several are working with infected bats to determine what conditions might mitigate the disease. Others are rehabilitating bats in labs to learn whether, once infected, they can recover, and if so, whether they are susceptible to future infection. Still others are using electron microscopy to study the lesions associated with the disease. “I’ve learned that bat biologists are a dedicated, unpretentious group,” said Keel. “They’re sharing information and working together to fight this thing. And even though we haven’t had much good news for them, they’ve been a pleasure to work with.” Scientists are especially baffled about the disease’s destructiveness in North America—bats in Europe harbor the identical Geomyces destructans fungus, but apparently without deadly effects. Researchers assume that because white-nose fungus is native to Europe, bats there have some immunity while those here have none, but it’s only a guess. “The truth is, we don’t yet know what it’s doing, and unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of time,” said Keel. (Helen Fosgate is editor of ugaresearch).
Bat Facts • Bats have lived on Earth for 50 million years. • Bats are mammals. Females bear one to four “pups” per year, which they nurse for about six months. • Bats are the only flying mammals. • There are close to 1,000 bat species in the world; more than 60 percent are threatened, endangered, or close to extinction. • Bats are fastidious; they spend hours a day grooming. • The average lifespan of bats is about 20 years, though some species live only four or five years; others live up to 40 years. • Bats account for more than 20 percent of all mammals on Earth. • Bats are social animals and live in colonies, usually in caves or abandoned mines. • Bats sleep, or “roost,” upside-down during the day and are active at night, when they hunt. • About 70 percent of bats eat insects; others eat fruit, nectar, and seeds. A few species are carnivorous and feed on frogs, fish, birds, and lizards. • Bats rarely bite humans, though vampire bats feed on the blood of cattle, horses, deer, and other wild mammals. • Only half of 1 percent of bats carry rabies, about the same rate as other mammals. • An anticoagulant derived from vampire-bat saliva is used to treat human heart-disease patients and stroke victims. • Being nocturnal, bats use high-frequency sound, in a process called echolocation, to locate food and navigate in the dark. They are not blind, as many people believe. • Bats pollinate a number of important agricultural crops, including bananas, breadfruit, mangoes, cashews, dates, figs—and gourds, which only open their flowers at night. • Bats are found everywhere in the world except the Arctic and Antarctic. • With natural habitat dwindling, homemade “bat boxes” help support bats by furnishing safe places for them to roost, hibernate, and raise young. Find a number of plans for building one at: http://www.eparks.org/ wildlife_protection/wildlife_facts/bats/bat_house.asp A colony of hibernating little brown bats with WNS (top); a tri-colored bat ready for testing (center); a positive periodic-acid Schiff stains the Geomyces destructans fungus purple (bottom).
For more about bats or white nose syndrome, visit: www.georgiawildlife.org, www.batcon.org, and www.fws.gov/WhiteNoseSyndrome
Photo By Paul Efland/UGA
Hometown: Warwick, Rhode Island Education:
B.A., Psychology, University of Rhode Island, 1980 M.A., Developmental Psychology, University of Notre Dame, 1985 Ph. D., Developmental Psychology, University of Notre Dame, 1987
Work history: Professor, Applied Cognition and Development Program, Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia, Athens (1998-present) Associate Professor, Department of Educational Psychology, UGA, Athens (1993-1998) Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Psychology, UGA, Athens (1989-1993) Postdoctoral Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research, Munich, Germany (1987-1989) Research areas: Mathematics achievement, metacognition and strategy development, gender and motivation as related to mathematics achievement, spatial skills Research funding (major source): National Science Foundation Courses taught: Foundations of Cognition, Achievement and Intelligence, Research Seminar in Educational Psychology (professional issues), Metacognitive Strategies and Motivation in the Classroom, Metacognition and Motivation Teaching philosophy: Courses should be geared to the goals and developmental needs of the [university-level] students. People wishing to go into teaching should therefore receive instruction in educational psychology theory and research as they apply to the classroom. Students seeking an educational-research degree should have an in-depth knowledge of the theory, research, and practice of educational psychology. Family:
Husband (Barry Biddlecomb) teaches mathematics and physics at Georgia Gwinnett College; daughter (Miranda) attends Hilsman Middle School, Athens, Ga.
Hobbies/passions outside work: Running and gardening 26
Contact Martha Carr at: email@example.com
Martha Carr, UGA’s Aderhold Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology and recipient of the 2011 William A. Owens Award for Creative Research, talks with ugaresearch editor Helen Fosgate about Carr’s research on math literacy rates among students in the United States and what she has learned that may help improve their math education. Q: What is math literacy, and why and how do you study it? A: Math literacy is the measure of a
student’s math ability—how well he or she can use math in and out of school. I got interested in this area when I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research in Munich, Germany. Fascinated by how second graders were using complex strategies to solve math problems, I started studying math “metacognition”—the ability to reflect on one’s progress (or lack of progress) in problem-solving. There is a lot of research on metacognition with regard to reading, but very little on math. I also studied factors that affect math achievement—such as the influence of peers, parents, gender, and other motivators— and I conducted longitudinal studies on the types of strategies that are successful in establishing fluency, accuracy, and confidence.
Q: What are the factors you’ve found that inhibit, or stimulate, math achievement? A: I would say that a failure to move away
from counting fingers and using counters— which impedes the mental representation and counting of numbers—is a major factor in holding students back. Performance is improved if teachers instruct children in how to use mental strategies—both in class and on tests. We know that the more kids know about strategies, the more likely they are to use them correctly, particularly when they’re trying to use new strategies. My research has shown that kids, particularly boys, tend to push each other to use more advanced strategies. When you get a bunch of boys together you will see them increasingly count in their heads or try to get the answer from memory. Girls tend to count on fingers and use counters more than boys. Nobody is pushing girls to adapt for themselves what clearly works for boys. Parents and teachers seem to hold off on intervening until problems emerge.
We’ve also found that children who have better spatial skills—the ability to mentally manipulate dimensional objects and use visualization—do well in math. We don’t yet know, however, whether improving students’ spatial skills also improves math achievement; that research hasn’t been done.
Q: What are the consequences today of poor math literacy? A: It isn’t just a matter of whether people can
get a good job or not, it’s that math literacy has real consequences in people’s lives. The financial meltdown is a perfect example. If homeowners who defaulted on their mortgages had just been able to do the math, so much expense and suffering might have been avoided. Math literacy is also important in a lot of everyday situations, such as planning for retirement. People should be able to understand the formulas for determining how much money they’ll need over a long period of time. As a country, a collective deficiency in math hurts America’s ability to compete, especially against cultures where an understanding of math is fundamental. Asian countries in particular have high mathcompetency levels. Part of the reason is their belief that math is an important gateway to knowledge that leads to personal and professional success.
Q: What will it take to improve our math competency? A: First, we need good solid data that show us
what works, and then stick to it. We must stop changing strategies about how to teach math in the schools. Our teachers need textbooks with proven methods—and national standards for different grade levels. We also need to lose this assumption that people are either good at math or not at all capable. Instead, we must understand that everyone needs a certain level of competency; this will require some long-term studies on the impact of instruction. Another assumption we need to lose is that math skills are nothing more than memorized facts and rote procedures; they’re more about problem-solving and critical thinking, skills that serve us in all walks of life.
Four simple ways to help your elementary-school-age child learn math: 1. Play board games and card games (e.g., SKIP-BO) that focus on counting. 2. Practice to improve speed and accuracy on basic number operations. (For example, see how quickly your child can give you the answer to 8+9 or 7 x 3.) Play games that involve this type of activity. 3. Give your child a number (e.g., 18) and ask him or her to tell you the next number up. Work up and down the number line. (For example, work up to giving your child the number 18 and having him or her tell you the 5th number that comes after it.) 4. Tell your child that it is hard work, not innate ability, that determines who succeeds in math. Don’t accept the common belief that it is all right not to do well in math.
When Science Is Fun and Games UGA’s interactive 3D animations engage students in learning some of biology’s core concepts. By Laurie Anderson Photos by Peter Frey High school students do not, as a rule, get excited about science, but they’re enthusiastic about the creations of a multidisciplinary research team at the University of Georgia. The team’s 3D computer simulations not only help students master basic biological concepts but also engage them so deeply that they often ask for more. The programs depict the dynamic nature of cellular and molecular interactions, which the viewer can manipulate. Three of the programs recreate case-study situations based on real-life events in which osmosis, diffusion, or filtration play a key role. A fourth program also teaches about osmosis, but in a game format. Preliminary tests of high-school students who used the osmosis case study and game suggested that students came away with a better understanding of osmosis than after standard class lessons.
The Wizards of Osy The team’s project began in the late 1990s when Jim Moore, professor of large animal medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine, teamed up with educational technologist Mac Smith, computer-graphics artists Flint Buchanan and Thel Melton, and others to produce The Glass Horse (www.3dglasshorse.com), which depicted threedimensional animations of specific areas of horse anatomy. Tom Robertson, associate professor of physiology, joined the group to make 3D animations of how cells work; and Steve Oliver, professor of science education in the College of Education, became a key collaborator after seeing the animations. “I thought that creating highly accurate
depictions of internal biology would be a great way for precollege students to see how living organisms function,” said Oliver. While pondering what to depict, team members learned from high school science teachers that students often had difficulty grasping osmosis, diffusion, and filtration— processes basic to all biological functions. With the help of Casey O’Donnell, an assistant professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, they began developing a game now called Osy Osmosis. The game shows how a cell absorbs or loses water, depending on differences in solute (dissolved particle) concentration inside and around the cell. A cell having a low concentration of solute will lose water when in a higher solute concentration, causing it to shrink. If the solute concentration is higher inside the cell than the surrounding solution, water moves into it, causing it to swell. When the density of particles inside the cell matches the density outside the cell, equilibrium occurs—that is, the net movement of water stops. In the game, players help an anthropomorphized cell named Osy (pronounced Ah-zee) maneuver past various obstacles to areas of greater and lesser particle concentration so that Osy can attain equilibrium. If Osy loses or gains too much fluid, she will respectively contract until she dies or expand until she bursts. A player wins by successfully maneuvering Osy past all of the obstacles. Most students who have tested the game respond enthusiastically, said Moore. “They cry out when they lose and beam when they conquer the next challenge.” Spring 2011
Students don’t just observe During Osy’s development, high school science teachers pointed out that students responded positively and strongly to case studies that connected what they were studying to real life. Inspired by that fact, in 2008 Oliver, Moore, and Robertson landed a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a project they dubbed IDEAL Biology (with IDEAL an acronym for Interactive 3-Dimensional Education and Learning). The grant funded the creation of interactive simulations of real medical problems involving osmosis, diffusion, or filtration that students could investigate and fix. One simulation is a case study in which a calf named Clark is having seizures. After looking Clark over and reviewing the available information, students get inside the calf’s brain on a microscopic level to see what’s happening. There, they use the program’s digital “tools” to measure sodium levels, water movement into and out of blood vessels, fluid pressure, and neuron-firing rates. Students choose a treatment based on their observations, but Clark recovers only if they pick the right one. “The simulation provides an active ‘explore, measure, and hypothesize’ approach that helps students engage with the subject,” said Oliver.
Other case studies under development involve diffusion and filtration. In the former, students take on the role of a physician’s assistant in an emergency room, look inside the lungs of a victim of poison-gas inhalation, and measure the factors in which diffusion plays a role. In the latter, students analyze a patient experiencing kidney failure, fly into a hemodialysis machine to examine the filtration process, adjust the pore settings, see how the patient responds, and explain in their digital notebooks what occurred and why. All of the simulations require engagement. The students don’t just observe; they also choose what to observe and what to measure, determine a course of action, and find out if their choice of treatment works. While there is no proof yet that animated interactive scenarios such as these teach biology any better than traditional means, the anecdotal evidence from early test groups is promising. “I think more students understood the topic using the module because they were actively learning, and they were having fun at the same time,” said Stella Guerrero, whose 10th graders at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens, Georgia, tested both the Osy game and the Clark case study. The researchers plan to follow up by rigorously testing the scenarios’ effectiveness.
The treatment summary (right) of a patient experiencing kidney failure. The student was able to restore equilibrium, saving the patient.
To beat the clock
Students learn about osmosis by measuring the activity of neurons (brown), blood cells (red) and sodium ions (green circles) inside the brain of Clark the calf (upper right).
Science education professor Steve Oliver (facing page in blue shirt) watches a scene from Osy Osmosis with collaborators Jim Moore (above left), professor of veterinary medicine, and Casey O’Donnell, assistant professor of telecommunications (above right).
“Our ultimate goal is for UGA to be recognized for its multidisciplinary approach to the development and evaluation of interactive 3D animations that teach the core concepts of science,” said Moore. But despite strong interest from teachers and students, the IDEAL Biology project’s future is uncertain. “We can hear the clock ticking very loudly,” said Moore, referring to the NIH funding that will end in less than two years. Members of the group are thus submitting as many educationbased grant proposals as they can. So far, the National Science Foundation has approved the IDEAL Biology-based proposals of two assistant professors—plant biologist Kathrin Stanger-Hall in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and science educator Ji Shen in the College of Education—but the race is on to fill the still-sizeable support gap. To help address the challenge through a commercial approach, Robertson, Moore, Oliver, and five other faculty members, with the aid of the UGA Technology Commercialization Office, the Georgia BioBusiness Center, and the Georgia Small Business Development Center, have formed a company called Interactive Science in 3D, or IS3D. “Our medium-term goal is to establish a self-sufficient company in the next five years,” said Robertson, who heads IS3D. In April 2010, the Georgia Research Alliance stepped in to help with a VentureLab seed grant that made it possible to improve Osy and adapt it to the iPad and iPhone platforms. This past spring, Osy was released in Apple Computer’s iTunes App Store. For more information, see http://www.coe.uga.edu/mse_ ideal/ and http://www.osyosmosis.com.
(Laurie Anderson is a science writer in the Office of Research Communications and edits the Media Shelf section of ugaresearch).
Health care reform isn’t pretty By W. David Bradford The requirement for everyone to purchase health insurance may be distasteful to some, but it should remain in force if health care reform is to succeed.
he Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), signed into law in March 2010, is the largest change in U.S. health care since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. Not surprisingly, it has also been one of the most controversial. The law was the focus of the 2010 midterm elections, has prompted multiple repeal efforts (including the colorfully named “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act”), and has had its constitutionality challenged four times in federal court. Lost in the overheated rhetoric from both sides is a clear delineation of why reform is needed and what the best feasible reform must accomplish. Happily, the past three decades of health economic research can shine a light on these foundational issues. The U.S. health care system does many things very well, such as enabling rapid access to advanced health services, developing new technologies and pharmaceuticals, and assuring access to life-saving care regardless of one’s ability to pay (popular perceptions to the contrary notwithstanding). Indeed, we generally have wait
Photo by AnDrew tucker/uGA
times for advanced care that are about half as long as those in Canada and the United Kingdom. The United States performs relatively well in preventative care too; for example, when recently compared to six other industrialized countries, we had the best rates of Pap smears, mammography, and physician advice on exercise, among other preventative services. However, the U.S. system does some things poorly. We find it hard to pay for health care in a way that keeps unnecessary costs to a minimum. Currently, the United States spends around 16 percent of Gross Domestic Product on health care, and those expenditures have been rising faster than in nearly all other industrialized countries. In addition, 16 percent of U.S. residents have no formal health insurance coverage. This situation compromises access to sub-acute care and for many people puts their lifetime financial health at risk. Too-high costs and too-low access—these are the main problems that led to the recent health care reform efforts. The problems with our system largely arise from two classic failures in decentralized health
care markets. The first is “moral hazard.” Because we rely on markets to allocate resources in health care, health insurance is needed to make expensive care affordable; however, it usually also pays a large percent of even modestly expensive care (such as an MRI scan). As a result, insured Americans purchase too much of this moderately expensive health care. The second market failure, and the focus of the rest of this article, is “adverse selection.” Currently, people can choose not to buy insurance. As a result, insurance prices are inevitably higher than they would be if everyone were in the market, given that many healthy and therefore lowmedical-cost people choose not to buy coverage. This inevitably sets up a cycle whereby healthy people are less and less likely to be insured in the individual and smallgroup market and prices for coverage stay high. Economic theory and empirical research demonstrate that there is only one solution to the adverse-selection problem if we want to continue letting people choose their care in a market framework: somehow everyone must be covered by insurance. Letting 45–50 million people remain uninsured imposes huge costs both on the uninsured and on the 260 million people who do have insurance. This is the problem that the PPACA addresses when it (1) mandates coverage, (2) requires insurers to offer policies to everyone, and (3) eliminates preexisting-condition clauses. The latter two policy changes are, naturally, popular (along with a host of other reforms that expand the benefits people are offered). The controversy arises from the first component—requiring (effectively) everyone to purchase insurance. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to have guaranteed-issue and no-preexisting-condition clauses unless everyone is required to purchase insurance. To do otherwise would maximize adverse selection and almost surely cause individual and small-group markets to collapse completely. Thus the federal judge who recently declared that all components of the PPACA are intertwined and must stand or fall together was correct: either we provide both the benefit expansions and require that people must have insurance, or we do neither (and so return to status quo or take an entirely different approach). One thing, however, is certain: if the Act survives implementation, it will provide a decade or more of interesting and important research opportunities for academic health economists and health policy researchers. (David Bradford is professor of public administration and policy at the University of Georgia, Athens).
W. David Bradford Education: Ph.D., Economics, Louisiana State University, 1991 M.S., Economics, Louisiana State University, 1989 B.S., Foreign Languages, Mississippi State University, 1987 Work History: Professor and Busbee Chair in Public Policy, Department of Public Administration and Policy, University of Georgia, August 2008 to present Professor, Health and Administration and Policy, and Director, Center for Health Economic and Policy Studies, Medical University of South Carolina, 2002 to 2008 Associate Professor, Department of Health Administration and Policy, Medical University of South Carolina, 1998 to 2003 Visiting Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, Yale University, 1997 to 1998 Associate Professor, Department of Economics, University of New Hampshire, 1996 to 1998 Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of New Hampshire, 1991 to 1996 Research Interests: Health economic policy; the role of direct-to-consumer advertising and FDA regulatory actions in pharmaceutical markets; the role of individual time discounting and risk preferences in health-related decisions Research Funding: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Defense; other public and private sources Courses Taught: Foundations of Policy Analysis, (Masters level, Department of Public Administration and Policy, University of Georgia) Advanced Topics in Statistical Modeling, (Ph.D. level, Department of Public Administration and Policy, University of Georgia) Program Evaluation, (Masters and Ph.D. level, Department of Public Administration and Policy, University of Georgia) Family, interests outside work: Wife, Melanie and two daughters, Chelsea and Ashley. Chelsea is majoring in art management at the College of Charleston; Ashley is a junior at North Oconee High School. Ashley and I enjoy sailing on Lake Hartwell; Melanie and I enjoy traveling. My hobbies include woodworking, and studying theology. Contact David Bradford at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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behind the scenes A Look Back: Prehistory of the Odum School of Ecology
Read the full article online at: www.ecology.uga.edu
photo provided by terry camp/UGa ecoloGy
The Odum School of Ecology’s fascinating history spans more than 60 years, as documented in “Prehistory of the Odum School of Ecology,” an online article by ecology professor emeritus David Coleman and librarian Terry Camp. Their narrative chronicles the school’s evolution with a personal look at the people, places, and research programs that defined its formative years. The article points out that the Odum School’s origins were in the creation of off-campus research groups on Sapelo Island and the Savannah River Site in the early 1950s. The organization was formalized in 1966 with the establishment of the Institute of Ecology, which in 2008 became the Odum School of Ecology—representing six decades of collaborative environmental research efforts in the southeastern United States that evolved into numerous interdisciplinary regional and national programs. From the beginning, the Institute embraced an interdisciplinary model. Early on, the work of the Institute of Ecology, including that of collaborating university scientists in several departments, comprised nearly one-half of the funded research at the University of Georgia.
Eugene Odum (left), UGA President Fred Davison (center), and Frank Golley at the dedication of the new Ecology building, October 12, 1977.
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