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Bumblebees, climate change, and how we see the sea: ES Faculty Research roundup

Bumblebees, climate change, and how we see the sea: ES Faculty Research roundup

July 1, 2014

Helen Young, Biology

For the past several years, Biology Professor Helen Young has kept a close eye on bee pollination in Addison County—specifically, how landscape features affect bumblebee abundance in old-fields. Unlike honeybees, bumblebees are native to North America and their presence is important for the reproduction of native plants. 

Since Helen’s previous work showed that the presence of forest around old-fields increases the abundance of bumblebees visiting flowers, she broadened the scope of her research in the summer of 2013 to the pollination of crops on farms in Addison County. Much of that work explored the pollination of tomato flowers by different bee pollinators. 

This past spring, Helen and Research Assistant Spencer Hardy ’16 studied apple tree pollination to examine the details of bee movement, pollen transfer, and compatibility of pollination within and among varieties of apples.

Nick Muller, Economics

Air pollution is all around us. Associate Professor of Economics Nick Muller’s latest research is focused on measuring the damages due to emissions from market production in the United States, as well as related market-based environmental policy design. His research integrates measures of air pollution damage with conventional measures of output (such as Gross Domestic Product) to develop environmental accounts from 1999 to 2008 in the U.S.

This research suggests that measures of growth that include air pollution damage have increased more rapidly than conventional measures of output. During the summer of 2014, Nick will work with a student research assistant to incorporate data from 2011 into this framework.

Michelle McCauley, Psychology

What makes people care about environmental concerns? What makes them take action or change their behaviors? Over the last five years, psychology professor Michelle McCauley has worked with a number of students in her lab to answer these and other questions.

Her lab team has surveyed parents to better understand how childhood experiences with nature are related to spending time outside with their kids. They have tested whether spending time in the greenhouse improves one’s mental state compared to just taking a break on a couch (it does). They have measured core values and psychological need fulfillment and assessed how these factors can predict environmental policy support, cooperation in a resource allocation situation, and shifts in pre-environmental action. Most recently, Michelle and Abigail Karp ’14 ran a field experiment in a dorm to test whether an electronic reminder of group-level energy consumption could significantly reduce electric use in the dorm.

The common thread throughout Michelle’s research is a focus on the individual and a recognition that people differ. Michelle is not only interested in whether an automated digital reminder will work to reduce energy use and increase environmental actions in general, but also, for whom? How will a person’s prior values or psychological wellbeing respond to the digital reminder? Will this work better for some groups of individuals than others? And can we reliably predict this? Stay tuned!

Andrea Olsen, Dance 

To accompany her new book The Place of Dance: A Somatic Guide to Dancing and Dance Making, Professor of Dance Andrea Olsen lectured and performed this spring at Smith College, Wesleyan University, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. She also collaborated with colleagues John Elder and Nukhet Kardam on a new course at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS), Communicating Social Change, which focuses on intercultural communication through moving, writing, and speaking.

This summer she begins her project Dancing in Wild Places: Seaweed and Ocean Health, working with artists and scientists in France, Ireland, and Iceland. Student Research Assistant Doug LeCours ’15 will create a digital archive of place-based dancing and writing through the Gretchen Reilly ’60 Environmental Fund. And as part of a One Middlebury grant received by Andrea, a seaweed photography exhibit of works by San Francisco artist Josie Iselin was displayed at the Davis Family Library at Middlebury and at the William Tell Coleman Library at MIIS in March and April. One image remains on display in Middlebury at the Franklin Environmental Center and one in Monterey at the Center for the Blue Economy.

Dan Brayton, English

Associate Professor of English Dan Brayton’s research focuses on the literary and cultural representations of the sea. This summer, Dan will sail with the Sea Education Association aboard the Sailing School Vessel Corwith Cramer. He will travel from Ireland to Brittany, Portugal, and Spain.

While on board the Corwith Cramer, Dan will teach a four-week college program, Ports of Western Europe, on the maritime history and marine environmental history of the region. Dan will also finish two academic articles on literature and the marine environment and is about to start a third.