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Award-Winning Student Projects

The following projects won humane science awards at New York Academy of Sciences annual student expos.

WEATHER AND BIRD FEEDING HABITS

In May 1998, a humane science award went to Andrea Shapiro, 10th grade, Kingsborough High School for Science, for her project entitled Weather and Bird Feeding Habits. Andrea Shapiro's hypotheses was that "birds will eat less on days when there is more cloud cover and lower temperatures. Heavy cloud cover normally is the prelude to a storm. Birds will eat less on these days because their instincts tell them that it is more dangerous to be out in this weather. A wet bird could get hypothermia and die, so birds would not risk their lives going out to get food in a storm. In nature it is harder to get food in bad weather and may not be worth the effort."

Her procedure included filling a bird feeder with the same amount of bird seed daily. She refilled the feeder if it was emptied during the day. She calculated the amount of food eaten daily. she obtained the daily weather report from the National Weather Service (www.nsw@noaa.gov), graphed the amount of seed eaten each day and the weather conditions and compared them. She noted potential sources of error including the fact that any birds killed or frightened away from her feeder, or an influx of birds to her feeder caused by neighbors who forgot to fill their feeders might have effected her measurements.

Birds observed included the black-capped chickadee, blue jay, house sparrow, mourning dove, northern cardinal, northern slate colored junco, and rock dove (pigeon). She developed charts which compared food eaten to temperature, food eaten to wind-chill, and food eaten to cloud cover.

Her research showed that her hypothesis was correct. "Birds eating habits do correspond to temperature and cloud cover. This was also true when wind-chill was factored in. Birds came out to eat as soon as the weather started to clear. So by the time the weather had peaked, the birds were full and ate less....Birds' lives can be on the line during a storm. During the winter, stormy weather contributes to 80 percent of bird mortality."

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

In May 1998, a humane science award went to Adam Corrado, 9th grade, Staten Island Technical High School, for his project entitled Birds Of A Feather. Adam Corrado's project focused on "learning which cleaning agent is most useful for cleaning crude oil from the feathers of birds exposed to oil spills, and what are the consequences of these cleaning processes on these birds?" His hypothesis was that "the most effective cleaning agent would be the dishwashing liquid." He also hypothesized that "the process used to take the oil off the bird would somehow hinder the bird's natural ability to survive."

He "found that of the four agents that he used to clean the feathers (water, vinegar, dishwashing liquid and baby shampoo), the dishwashing liquid produced the best results in that it removed most of the oil from the feather. When the oil is cleaned off the feathers though, the natural oils that are on the feathers are also removed. This natural oil helps to keep the bird afloat in the water and without this oil, they will sink and eventually drown. This can be prevented by keeping the animals in some sort of care or quarantine where they are not exposed to deep areas of water, because they need some time to regenerate their natural oils.... Studies show that even when the animals are kept away (from wilderness areas) to regenerate their defenses, when returned to the wild their chances of survival are still decreased. After a disaster. the wildlife habitat begins to rebuild itself almost immediately. Different groups of animals start to migrate to the areas and when the injured animals are returned...the habitat they are used to is gone and they must learn to live in a new world."

CURE FOR CANINE CANCER

In May 1998, Ronald Cohen, 11th grade, Lehman High School won an award for his project Searching For A Cure For Canine Cancer . Ronald Cohen's project focused on mammary cancer in dogs. According to his study of the literature on this topic, "this type of cancer accounts for twenty-four to twenty-five percent of all female dog cancers. The average age that mammary cancer occurs in female dogs is ten to eleven years of age. The mammary tumor in fifty to sixty percent of these cases is malignant.... Common sites that this cancer spreads to are lymph nodes closest to it and the lungs." His search uncovered a variety of treatments for cancer the most common of which appeared to be amputation and chemotherapy. Other procedures included Chinese medicine which included taking all natural vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements including astragalus, essential fatty acids and calendula. He found that "diet in important in helping an animals with cancer. Diet helps improve the animal's immune system. European studies have found that preservatives (often found in dog food) such as exthoxquin and BHA cause cancer. " His search of the literature also showed that "there is a higher risk of mammary cancer in able reproducing dogs than spayed females" and that "hormones (such as estrogen) affect mammary cancer."

THROUGH THE EYES OF A LEMUR

In May 1998, Adam Hartstone-Rose, 11th grade, Trevor Day School, won an award for his science projectThrough The Eyes Of A Lemur. Adam Hartstone-Rose's project dealt with the correlation between the orbital size and the environment of prosimians. He stated that "Theoretically, if a species is nocturnal, its eyes will have become larger to allow for maximum collection of light and maximum ability to interpret surroundings. Though this hypothesis has been superficially studied with mixed results, I believe that not only is it provable, but that a much more controversial but consistent hypothesis is also provable. I hypothesize that in species that have become adapted to environments where there is only a small amount of light, as in a dense forest, eyes will have become larger than in comparable species that live in an environment with more light exposure, as in a less densely forested, dryer region."

His study tested the previously studied hypothesis: The ratio of the orbital length to the length of the base of the skull will be larger in nocturnal lemur species than in diurnal lemur species. The study also tries to prove his newly conceptualized hypothesis: The ratio of the orbital length to the length of the base of the skull will be larger in diurnal lemur species that live in shady environments than in diurnal lemur species that live in sunny environments. The hypotheses were tested by measuring the skulls of prosimians at the American Museum of Natural History.

Both hypotheses were proven in this study with the exception of the Aye-Aye, Daubentonia madagascarensis. In future study, Adam Hartstone-Rose plans to measure not only the orbital diameter of the prosimians, but also the auditory region(the ears) and the olfactory region (the nose). "with this heightened evidence," he is "thoroughly convinced that animals' senses will heighten as their environmental or behavioral exposure to light is decreased.

Adam Hartstone-Rose believes that this study is important because it gives us information about a lemur's behavior and environment from physical features of the skull. His study, in part, tries to provide information about animals which are extinct as is the case for almost half the known genera of lemurs discovered on the island of Madagascar.

HABITATS OF MIGRATORY WARBLERS

In May 1996, a humane science award went to Beth Robinson, Fieldston School, Bronx, grade 12, for her project entitled Habitats of Migratory Warblers. The purpose of this project was to see what species of warblers migrate through the Fieldston School woods in the spring, how many of each species there were, what species of trees they land in, and which parts of the trees, understory, or ground they feed in.

She used binoculars, a field guide for birds, a clipboard and xerox copies of a map of the different sections of the woods behind the Fieldston School. With the help of one of the biology teachers in her school, she observed warblers in the woods each school day morning from 7:30 to 8:00 am from May 1 to June 3 for four years. she charted the date, weather, the time period, the species of warbler, which tree it was in and how high the tree was. The number of sightings rather the number of individual birds was charted.

Charts included:

  • The number of times she saw each species of warbler.
  • The percent of the time she saw each species.
  • The number of times she saw each species on the ground, in the understory, or at a specific height in the tree.
  • The percent of the time she saw each species at a certain height above the ground.

Warblers she saw included the black and white warbler, the black-throated green warbler, the magnolia warbler, the yellow warbler and the redstart warbler as well as ten other species of warbler. She concluded that" certain warblers appeared much more than others did...This may be because they followed a different route while migrating of because they didn't like the habitat of the Fieldston woods. The warblers were usually found in trees and those in trees clearly preferred oaks....Most species preferred the crown or middle...The warblers might pick certain areas because of the food in them, and also might try to stay out of areas where there are already many warblers." Further study was recommended.

FOOD PREFERENCE IN MYIOPSITTA MONARCHS - A THREAT TO AGRICULTURE?

In May 1996, humane science awards went to Elie Fouerti and Albert Mita, Magen David Yeshiva High School, Brooklyn, grade 12, for their project entitled Food Preference in Myiopsitta Monarchs - A Threat to Agriculture?

In their projection introduction they explained, "The Monk Parakeet, Myiopsitta Monachus, is almost entirely green, with the exception of its bluish-gray forehead cheeks, throat and breast. The bird has a length of 11 1/2 inches (29 cm.) and a body weight of 127 - 140 g. This neotropical bird is a native of South America ....The largest population exists in Argentina....where they are considered to pose a serious threat to agricultural crops, particularly corn, sorghum, sunflower seeds and millet....Since 1971, Monk Parakeets have been reported throughout northeastern New York, parts of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia and Florida." North American populations are thought to have come from escaped shipment of parrots brought into Kennedy Airport or from an overturned truck although there is no verification of either of these competing reports.

According to the students, there was concern by government officials as to whether the Monk Parakeets would destroy crops in the United States. There was also concern as to whether they would survive the cold winter weather in the United States. Their project revolved around the question, "Do feeding patterns of Monk Parakeets in Brooklyn provide an indication that they may become a potential agricultural pest in the United States?"

Observations were made of the birds' behavior over a two-and-a-half-year period. An examination of the area surrounding the nests were undertaken to determine potential sources of food. The location surrounding the nest contained several fruit trees including pears, peaches and wild cherries as well as gardens which contained tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Throughout the entire fruiting cycle, the birds were not reported to feed from any of the trees or vegetables by community residents. The only report of parrots eating crops in the garden concerned sunflower seeds. The parrots were seen pecking on the matured heads of several sunflower plants. Despite their visitations, most of the flower heads remained intact. Squirrels proved to be more damaging to the sunflowers that the parrots.

Several residents in the neighborhood surrounding the nests fed the birds. These people placed pieces of bread and commercial bird seeded mixes on their property and on the street in front of their homes. The seeds and breads attracted mixed flocks of pigeons, sparrows, starlings and monk parakeets. Bird feeding was more prevalent in the winter, when community residents were concerned that wild birds would nor find sufficient food.

It was also found that the birds frequented a field adjacent to a cemetery in the early spring and appeared to eat dandelion flowers, buds, and possibly the fresh green leaves then emerging.

The birds were observed building nests, feeding with other birds as well as with squirrels and reacting to --or ignoring -- passerbys.

The birds were observed feeding on grass seeds, which appeared to be a rye grass, near the school's athletic field. Observations and interviews with property owners indicate that the birds are attracted to grass seeds, earthworms and insects. Bird feeding by local residents appears to supplement the available food during the winter when food is scarce.

In their discussion of their findings, the two students stated that the evidence collected during the observation suggests that variations on the behavior of the Monk Parakeet occurred as a result of their ability to survive and adapt to a new environment. Behavioral changes documented in food preferences suggest that they do not pose a threat to existing fruit and vegetable crops, grown in Brooklyn, New York. The students suggested that "these birds, which attract tremendous attention when spotted or establishing a colony in an area, should become a subject of study and research, rather than extermination. Government agencies should conduct long-term projects, examining the northeastern birds' feeding habits in the wake of established policies of nest destruction." Additionally they discussed the idea that the Monk Parrot may fill a niche left vacant due to the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet. They also discussed the fact that predators including hawks and other raptors control its population growth.

NESTING PATTERNS OF MYIOPSITTA MONARCHS IN BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

In May 1996, a humane science award was presented to Ezra Antebi, Magen David Yeshiva High School, Brooklyn, grade 12, for his project entitled Nesting Patterns of Myiopsitta Monarchs in Brooklyn, New York. His project was a semifinalist in the Fifty-fifth annual science talent search.

His abstract noted that, "Myiospitta monarchus, a neotropical parakeet which is becoming established within the United States is recognized for its unique nesting characteristics. Observations of nesting colonies in Brooklyn, New York have revealed variations in nest architecture and significant differences in nesting pattern from those reported in South America. Variations have been observed in site preference, nest shape and colony size. They suggest behavioral modifications which may aid survival of true birds in diverse environments."

According to his report, the Myiospitta monarchus, Monk Parakeet, is found primarily in Argentina but its range extends from southern Bolivia through Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Monk Parakeets build and maintain their nests year round and use the nests for roosting at night as well as raising young in the breeding season. It has been reported since 1971 that Monk Parakeet populations exist in the United States in Puerto Rice, Florida, Virginia, New Jersey and other states along the Atlantic coast.

These bright green, highly visible parrots were first observed in Brooklyn, New York in the 1970's. Observations of three nesting colonies of Monk Parakeets in Brooklyn, New York indicated that nesting behaviors in this population has undergone modifications from those reported in South America. According to research conducted by the student, "these birds prefer to use thorny twigs to build a nest in their native habitat presumably because they bind together and provide extra protection against predators....Birds usually construct their nests n the canopy of thorn bearing trees....In the wild, nests with a single chamber and occupied by only one pair are not uncommon, but it is the enormous communal nests occupied by many pairs that are so conspicuous."

During 1993, a nest was spotted on a utility pole transformer in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. During the next two years, three additional nests were constructed within the same locality on utility poles as well. In October 1995, a press release on the Brooklyn College Campus described a large nesting colony of Monk Parakeets on light towers on the college athletic fields. The lighting towers were 50 feet in height. Mounted on top of them were flat platforms that support the lights. At this location, the Monk Parakeets built large, igloo shaped nests.

The student observed the nests during a two year period. High grass and weeds served as a blind. it was discovered that many nests were located on utility pole transformers. The student hypothesized that the parrots were seeking heat from the transformers as a means of surviving the harsh winters in New York.

When nests were destroyed to permit maintenance work in either Canarsie or the Brooklyn College nest sites, the parrots rebuilt their nests at the same site immediately following the completion of maintenance operations. A third nesting site was found at the Greenwood Cemetery's main gate and, here too, birds worked to rebuild nests that had been destroyed due to maintenance work.

This study documents a unique characteristics of the nesting behavior of the Monk Parakeet that the student had been unable to uncover in his search of the literature. The South American parrots construct their nests on trees. They prefer tall thorny trees and select thorny twigs for construction materials. In Brooklyn, the parrots chose man-made structures for nesting sites even though the regions they settled in had large, fully mature trees lining the streets.

Birds in Brooklyn sometimes built nests on electrical transformers. The student hypothesized that the birds may be attracted to the warmth provided by the transformers, the protection that these devices provide against high winds, or as a possible protection against predators. However, some nests were built on utility poles without transformers although there are utility poles containing transformers in close proximity.

In his concluding remarks the student stated, "The most surprising aspect of the birds nesting behavior is that nest architecture appears to vary from one nesting colony to another in a limited geographical location such as Brooklyn, New York. The fact that offspring, when they mature and leave the nest construct nests of their own which are identical to the ones in which they were born raises many issues concerning genetic imprinting and acquired behaviors." This interesting study included maps of the area and photographs of the birds and nests observed in Brooklyn, New York.

OIL REMOVAL FROM BIRDS AND SPILLS

In May 1996, Victoria Miller of Staten Island Technical High School received a humane science award for her project entitled Oil Removal From Birds and Spills. Her goal was to see what methods and chemicals removed oil from birds and oil spills the best. Materials she used to try to remove oil from birds feathers included water, dishwashing liquid, baby shampoo, mineral oil, white vinegar and discarded wing feathers from a sea gull. Some of the products used seemed to make the feather "a lot thinner" or "stuck together" or "limp and flat." She found that the mineral oil cleaned the feathers most effectively. The feather treated with mineral oil resembled the control feather (one not exposed to oil) the most. She concluded that "Mineral oil is crucial in cleaning bird feathers because it is a safe and inexpensive method. Plus it doesn't remove a birds natural oils and it restores their insulation properties. Without it many birds would die. Mineral oil enables the bird to regain its buoyancy and the bird will once again be able to swim without the fear of suffocation." She also noted, however, that other factors including how toxic the oil was, what the weather was like when the birds were oiled, the time interval between the oiling and the treatment, the time of year and the species of bird are also important factors.

She also used a variety of products including sawdust, straw, styrofoam, sponge, and dishwashing detergent to try to remove oil from salt water. She found that the detergent worked best. However, she noted that oil companies dislike detergents because they are unable to recover the oil and process it. She also noted that industrial detergents aren't necessarily good for the water either. "Bioremediation is one of the newest methods invented for cleaning up spills."

IN VITRO CYTOTOXICITY TESTING: SCREENING CHEMICALS FOR THE PREDICTION OF HUMAN TOXICITY

Alicia Sookhoo, a student at Townsend Harris High School, conducted an internship at York College, Queens under the direction of Dr. Frank Barile, noted tissue-cell culture expert. She was paid for her participation by grant dollars furnished by the National Institute of Health under the provisions of an Internship for Minorities program. In a previous study performed in the laboratory Drs. Barile, Arjun and Hopkinson (Toxicology In Vitro 1993) using rat lung epithelial cells developed an in vitro model to test for cytotoxicity. The results were compared to known animal and human toxicity data. The comparison determined that these in vitro techniques were at least as accurate in predicting acute human toxicity as in vivo (using live animals) rodent LD50 values.

The experiments presented in Alicia Sookhoo's study were performed on human fetal lung cells (HFL). The purpose was to compare the two cell lines in terms of sensitivity towards the Multicentre Evaluation of In Vitro Cytotoxicity (MEIC) chemicals. Confluent monolayers of HFL ells were incubated in either the absence, or presence, of increasing dosages of the test chemical, and the MTT assay was used to test for cytotoxicity. Short-term 24-hour experiments were performed and dose response curves were generated.

The data was subjected to linear regression analysis, the coefficient of correlation (r-value) was calculated and 10%, 50% and 75% inhibitory concentrations were determined. In addition, the hypothesis test for B = 0 was used in the determination of the statistical significance at the 95% and the 99% confidence intervals.

The results of this study indicate that these in vitro techniques can more accurately predict acute human chemical toxicity than in vivo rodent LD50 values. This data also suggests that continuous cell lines of human and animal origin do not show significant differences in sensitivity. The concept of basal cytotoxicity is supported.

CONGRATULATION TO ALL OUR AWARD WINNERS. ADDITIONAL PROJECTS WILL BE REVIEWED ANNUALLY IN JULY.