OGDEN, Utah – For the fourth year in a row, an undergraduate researcher at Weber State University will represent the state of Utah on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., as part of the prestigious Undergraduate Research Posters on the Hill event.
Lindsay Cole, who graduated summa cum laude in December with a bachelor’s degree in zoology, will be presenting her research on nest site selection by Great Salt Lake shorebirds. Her research was one of only 60 projects selected from more than 223 submissions nationwide.
Cole conducted her field research at Farmington Bay, where she collected data about the habitat and nest site characteristics of American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts, two North American shorebird species whose largest breeding populations are along the Great Salt Lake. Cole identified nest patch characteristics that were strongly associated with increased levels of nesting success.
“Every conservation plan calls for maintaining the breeding habitat of these species,” Cole said. “The problem was, while we had plenty of data on the birds’ reproductive habits, very little information existed on the nest sites and the most conducive habitats.”
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated that Utah establish water quality standards (e.g. acceptable nutrient levels) for the Great Salt Lake and surrounding wetlands. Cole’s research focused on Farmington Bay because the area has historically experienced higher nutrient levels than other parts of the lake. Cole’s findings will be incorporated into habitat models developed by the Utah Division of Water Quality that will provide guidance in setting acceptable nutrient limits for waters flowing into the Great Salt Lake.
The Utah Division of Water Quality provided funding for Cole’s research.
Associate zoology professor John Cavitt, who mentored Cole on the project, said this research will inform future policy decisions. “Lindsay’s research is making significant contributions to the conservation of this region,” he said. “It will have impacts on both the regulatory and management actions taken to preserve this vital habitat.”
While in the nation’s capital, Cole and Cavitt will meet individually with Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, and Rep. Rob Bishop. They plan to share Cole’s research findings with the elected officials and stress the ecological importance of the Great Salt Lake.
This summer, Cole plans to conduct a pilot study on colonial water birds at the Bear River Bird Sanctuary. Eventually, she would like to attend graduate school, perhaps pursuing a degree in watershed sciences. Ultimately she’d like to teach at a university or work for a state or federal agency involved in conservation efforts.
Cole joins Kristena Kons (2007), Kalista Francom (2006) and Eric Gabrielsen (2005) on the list of WSU students who have been invited to present their research at Posters on the Hill.
The annual Undergraduate Research Posters on the Hill event, scheduled for April 30, is sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research. The event provides a way to thank lawmakers for their support of federally funded scientific research and to demonstrate the results of that research at colleges and universities across the country.
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