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Moth Madness: Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology of Moths (Lepidoptera) in Our Urbanizing Landscape

At present we are experiencing extinction rates 1000x higher than rates typical over the past half billion years (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005), and by the end of this century, as much as 50-80% of the species of metazoans present in 1700 may be extinct. The first step in coping with a challenge such as this is personal engagement via education and experiential learning with a real group of organisms that show high diversity, environmental sensitivity and global decline, and have active communities of researchers (field and molecular ecologists and taxonomists) devoted to conservation. This project will immerse you in the biodiversity, conservation ecology, and wonder of a subtly charismatic group of nocturnal insects – urban moths. Research has shown direct relations between moth decline and local urbanization and larger scale effects of climate change, and a worldwide effort has been called for comparable data sets to be generated on moth biodiversity decline, especially for urban areas. In sum, we are perfectly positioned in the urban Philadelphia megalopolis to study biodiversity conservation at the nexus of moths and men.

*** Interested ? *** I need student collaborators right now! Please email me at bwgrant@widener.edu to get involved. Freshmen are welcome!


Population Ecology Studies of Eastern Fence Lizards, Sceloporus undulatus, in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

Since coming to Widener in 1993, Widener students and I have been researching a population of the Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) in the heart of the NJ Pine Barrens on a 4.5 hectare site near Tabernacle, NJ. The most intesive work window was from 1994 to 1998 during which we captured or recaptured 553 lizards (211 unique), and recorded 1272 observations of lizard home ranges and social interactions. NJ Fence Lizards exhibit unique life histories compared to populations studied elsewhere (slow individual growth rates, delayed sexual maturity, females larger than males). Data also show the huge effects of El Niño years on these lizards that reveal the complex challenge of biodiversity conservation amidst climate change. Interestingly, my population crashed (fewer 1-2 lizards over the entire study site) coincident with a spate of somewhat severe El Niños beginning in 1998 and reoccurring with increased frequency and intensity over the next decade. However, things may now are very different -- in a recent trip, I was very encouraged by finding lizards near the site again, and we will see what the future brings.

*** Interested ? *** Please email me at bwgrant@widener.edu to get involved. Freshmen are welcome!

Sceloporus undulatus

Population Ecology Studies of Red-Backed Salamanders, Plethodon cinereus, in Delaware County, PA

Red-Backed Salamanders, Plethodon cinereus, are among the most common vertebrates in urban forests in eastern North America. In all but the most heavily impacted forest or woodlot, P. cinereus numbers can reach hundreds per hectare, and they are often the dominant invertebrate-eating animal in ecological food chains. Despite extensive population studies of P. cinereus in rural or wilderness areas, almost nothing is known about their life history and population ecology in urban areas. In fall 2006, my students and I began studies of a population in Houston Park, only one mile from Widener. The goals of this project are -- what are salamander population sizes, where do they live and breed, what life histories have evolved in these populations as potential adaptations to environment -- especially urban environments, and how might these populations respond in evolutionary time to presently occurring landscape and climate change?

*** Interested ? *** I need student collaborators who are interested in field ecology for 2012-2013 (especially spring 2013). Please email me at bwgrant@widener.edu to get involved. Freshmen are welcome!

Plethodon cinereus

Urban Ecosystems: The New Frontier in Ecological Research

We all live in the dominant ecosystem type on the Earth today -- urban ecosystems. Currently, more than half of humanity lives in urban ecosystems, and the ecological effects of urban ecosystem resource demands (energy, water, and materials) extend widely to all other ecosystem types. Urban ecosystem ecology has been the principal research focus of a wide range of the courses I teach -- from Freshman Introductory Biology (Bio161) to my upper level Ecology and Conservation Biology courses. Projects have examined urban effects on terrestrial and aquatic plant and animal biodiversity, and may of these course-based projects have led to follow-up research independent projects and presentations. In addition, in Fall 2010, collaborators and I published a chapter on Urban Herpetology in a book on Urban Ecology (see papers at left).

*** Interested ? *** Please email me at bwgrant@widener.edu to get involved. Freshmen are welcome!

Urban Ecosystems

Bioenergetics Research on Energy Budgets and Life Histories of Reptiles and Amphibians

These studies are in collaboration with Dr. Itzick Vatnick (at right), with whom I have co-taught courses and collaborated on bioenergetics research projects since 1993 when we both arrived at Widener. We have a Sable Systems oxygen and carbon dioxide analysis system capable of whole-organism metabolism under controlled temperature conditions, and data from this apparatus has led to dozens of faculty*student collaborative projects, off campus presentations, and publications over the past decade. My interests are in understanding metabolism, food processing, and life history energy allocation in three separate study systems for each of which I have field projects previously described: Eastern Fence Lizards (Sceloporus undulatus), Fowler's Toads (Bufo fowleri), and Red-Backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus).

*** Interested ? *** Please email me at bwgrant@widener.edu. Freshmen are welcome!


Population Ecology Studies of Fowler's Toads, Bufo fowleri, in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

In Summer 2007, as my students and I restarted field studies on Eastern Fence Lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) in the heart of the NJ Pine Barrens in Tabernacle, NJ (see above), we noticed that the site was quite literally hopping with toads. I have never seen numbers as large as these, but that isn't the only surprising thing. Remember, toads lay eggs in water, and all of the standing water in the Pine Barrens is highly acidic (pH's around 4.5), which causes acid death for amphibians in our area of PA. So, let's find out "why" there are so many Fowler's Toads in the Pine Barrens -- where do they live and breed, what life histories have evolved in these populations as potential adaptations to environment, and how might these populations respond in evolutionary time to presently occurring landscape and climate change? This is a brand new and very exciting project for us to begin.

*** Interested ? *** I need student collaborators who are interested in field ecology for 2012-2013 (especially spring 2015). Please email me at bwgrant@widener.edu to get involved. Freshmen are welcome!

Bufo fowleri

Behavioral Ecology Studies of Soil Acidity Preferences by Fowler's Toads, Bufo fowleri, in a Lab pH Gradient

Fowler's Toads, Bufo fowleri, are the common toad in the New Jersey Pine Barrens on my research site for Eastern Fence Lizards. The Pine Barrens exhibit highly acidic sandy soils and surrounding bogs (pH = 4 to 5) where toads live and breed. Yet, it is widely known that environmental acidification causes amphibian decline elsewhere, and published research by Widener Faculty and Students has shown that compromised immune systems due to acidity can be an important cause of death. I ask -- how are these toads able to survive and breed in the high acidity in the heart of the Pine Barrens? Do the toads distinguish between and orient either towards or away from acidic soil conditions? To address these questions, I use a simple soil pH choice apparatus in lab. By recording toad movements, one can test hypotheses about orientation behavior and pH preferences.

*** Interested ? *** I need student collaborators who are interested in behavioral ecology in lab for 2012-2013 (especially spring 2013). Please email me at bwgrant@widener.edu to get involved. Freshmen are welcome!

Amphibian Behavior

Infusing Sustainability Science into STEM Curricula to Motivate Student Learning

I am co-PI with Steve Madigosky, Victor Donnay (Bryn Mawr), and 4 others on an NSF funded MSP Start Partnership (Oct 2008 – Oct 2011, $300,000) to create curricula that uses issues in environment, energy, and sustainability science to teach science and math aacross grades 4-12 and in the undergraduate science domain. In fall 2011, we submitted a $10 million grant to the NSF-MSP program, which unfortunately was not funded. We are currentley revising this proposal for resbmission to NSF over the next academic year.

Sustainability Science
Our main goal is to create a “Mega-University” to develop a coherent, innovative, and content-rich, multi-year curriculum in environment, energy, and sustainability science for Middle and High School teachers that will:
(A) improve their STEM content knowledge in areas critical to human environmental sustainability,
(B) improve their use of project based/service learning and scientific teaching pedagogies in their teaching,
(C) engage in real-world sustainability problem solving in an “externship” with a local business, non-profit or government organization that is active in the newly emerging green economy, and
(D) develop important leadership skills as change agents in their schools.
..all of which will improve student interest, learning, and engagement in STEM education, and support positive social change toward environmental sustainability and citizenship.
*** Interested ? *** ...please email bwgrant@widener.edu. Freshmen are welcome!

Synthesizing Socio-Environmental Data to Teach Ecology

Collaborators Teresa Mourad (Ecological Society of America - ESA) and Wendy Gram (National Ecological Observatory Network - NEON) and I recently were awarded an NSF Grant for a Distributed Graduate Seminar from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at UCSB, to develop curricula to use large scale ecological data to teach the basics of ecology in undergraduate courses. In July 2009, we held a week-long workshop at NCEAS, with 12 other faculty we invited from around the country, where we designed the framework and scope of these activities. New activities range from teaching the global carbon cycle, the proliferation of invasive species and diseases, how land use change affects avian migration, the effects on polar bears and arctic ecosystems of sea ice loss, etc., -- all using large scale publically accessible data bases and primary ecological literature. We are continuing to beta-test these activities in our classes, and two Widener students (Mike Colgan and Amy Thompson) and I reconvened @ NCEAS in spring 2011 for a summative meeting. Lastly, these activities will hopefully be published in ESA's peer-reviewed ecological educational journal TIEE (Teaching issues and Experiments in Ecology, http://tiee.ecoed.net ) that I and others created over the past decade.

*** Interested ? *** please email bwgrant@widener.edu. Freshmen are welcome!


Practitioner Research in Ecological & Science Education

Practitioner research is a teacher*researcher paradigm that uses scientific evidence to measure the effects of curriculum and instruction on student learning. In other words -- what is the evidence that students are learning as a result of teaching? Since coming to Widener in 1993, I have used and developed new methods in inquiry-based instruction through practitioner research to improve my teaching and my students' learning in all of my courses: freshman to senior.
Many of these efforts have focussed on teaching evolution to freshmen in Biology 161, many results of which appeared recently in talks I gave in spring and summer 2010, and in my comissioned paper for an e-volume on "Promising Practices in Science Education" published by the National Academy of Sciences in 2008 (see Papers at left, for the pdf). In addition, colleagues and I are researching other courses we teach at Widener including Envr 200 (in collaboration with Steve Madigosky) and ASC 400 (in collaboration with John Serembus and Janine Utell).

*** Interested ? *** in practitioner research in ecological education? please email bwgrant@widener.edu. Freshmen are welcome!

Ecological Education

Academic Service Learning: Researching a New Pedagogy to Teach Science and Civic Engagement

Research has shown that courses that engage students in academic service learning (ASL) improve students' multicultural awareness, social responsibility and agency, and citizenship. However, for academic subdisciplines such as the sciences, less is known about how ASL can affect student learning and improve students’ performance in their majors. What is needed is scientific evidence to test if the pedagogy of academic service learning can enhance academic learning, too. To pursue this research question, I designed a new course (Service Learning in Biology – Bio172), and from 2006-2009 freshmen science majors and I went to the Smedley Middle School where we offered life science education sessions for 6th-8th graders. In spring 2011, we retooled Bio172 for 9th grade honors biology students at the Smedley High School for Health Careers. Last spring we offered Bio172 at the Widener University Partnership Charter School with great success!!! We will continue this work in spring 2016.

*** Interested ? Freshmen are especially welcome !! ***, please email me at bwgrant@widener.edu.

Service Learning


I teach ecology, env sci, and evolution from Frs to Sr level: frosh biology, upper div ecology, evolution, conservation bio, biodiversity, urban ecology, entomology, statistics, and sustainability for Bio/ Envr majors, a Jr/Sr Values Sem in Env Ethics, courses in Academic Service Learning, non-majors Envr100, and Field Ecology for Teachers (ScEd 585).

My Courses

Additional Things I Do @ Widener

Service to Widener Faculty Governance and Administration:
     •  Faculty Council Committees
          * Student Services Committee
     •  College of Arts & Sciences Committees
          * Values Seminar Committee
     •  Science Division Committees (appointed/ volunteer)
          * Science Teaching Center Executive Committee
          * Science Initiative for Retention of Freshmen (SIRF)

     •  Biology Department Committees (appointed/ volunteer)
          * May Reading Day Bar-B-Que Committee
     •  Widener Administrative Committees
          * Academic Service Learning Faculty Fellow