2010-2011 Honors Student
Name: John F. Corbin III
Honors in: Environmental Science
Hometown: Brooklyn, PA
Major: Environmental Science (B.S.)
Title of Project: The Dynamics of Mammal Populations Following Bioremediation
Abstract or Brief Description: The Lehigh Gap Nature Center (LGNC) is a 750-acre preserve located within the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Site along the Kittatinny Ridge in eastern Pennsylvania. This area was severely impacted by zinc smelting until the 1980s. Since the early 2000s the LGNC has embarked on a program to rehabilitate and conserve the impacted environment through revegetation efforts using warm weather grasses. Despite intensive efforts to catalog plant, reptile, amphibian, avian, and insect populations, very little work has been done to record the mammalian fauna. This project attempts to identify and quantify indigenous mammal species using three techniques. Twenty-three Sherman small mammal traps were deployed along three line-transects and maintained for two-week periods each. Captured rodents were identified and population estimates were made using mark-recapture techniques. Motion-detecting trail cameras were deployed in several areas, such as at trail intersections and locations near access to water or food sources in order to estimate their relative abundances. Lastly, attempts to capture and identify native bat populations were employed using mist nets. Rodent populations were most abundant in riparian areas near the Lehigh River where the habitat was least affected by smelting. These populations contained four genera, with Peromyscus being the most dominant. The trail cameras produced photos of common herbivores such as white-tailed deer and the Eastern Cottontail, but also documented the presence of top predators such as river otters, black bears, raccoon, and feral cats. These results indicate the presence of suitable habitat for these mammals to thrive and reproduce, despite the extensive damage that was inflicted on the preserve for many decades.
How did you get interested in your topic? At least three of my prior science courses visited the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, to either observe the geology of the site, capture and release butterflies to tract their migration patterns, or to assess the ground cover of the site. While visiting I observed that there were lists of the fauna recorded at this superfund site. However, the list of mammals that inhabit the site seemed to be incomplete, so I pitched the idea to Dr. Kuserk about doing a mammal study in hope of adding species to the current list. He thought that it would make for a good Honors project, and I immediately started talking to the director of the site and the Pennsylvania Game Commission to obtain proper permits.
Do you intend to research your topic further? If so, how? I do not intend to continue this particular study, but hopefully other students can continue my project so the restoration process of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center can be properly recorded. However, I plan on doing additional mammal studies in various habitats.
How did you benefit academically by conducting research/participating in honors? In addition to receiving two courses worth of 4.0's, I also learned how to conduct a research project. This includes the preparation, methodology, analysis, and interpretation of everything. I also learned how to become a better scientific writer. My completion of a successful research project is also very enticing for future employers or graduate programs.
How has the department (or faculty advisor) prepared you for the future? My advisor provided me with the guidance I needed in order to properly conduct a research project of this magnitude. Additionally, he stressed the importance of keeping proper data records and how to effectively communicate through writing.
What advice do you have for other students interested in honors? Start early and don't quit. I recommend talking to all of the necessary people and obtaining all necessary resources prior to the start of the project. Also, keep up with the project. Set time aside to do the work every week even if the work isn't urgent, because throughout the project, there will be unexpected additions or complications.