Misericordia University biology students to study impact of natural gas development on forest habitat
Misericordia University biology students are getting an opportunity to use what they have learned in the classroom to study the impact of gas drilling and forest fragmentation on woodlands in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
On a recommendation of the Pennsylvania State Game Commission, Misericordia University is undertaking a three-year population study of small mammals, and the impact caused by road and forest fragmentation created by natural gas development throughout the region. The study is under the direction of Anthony Serino, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biology at Misericordia University.
The study will look at the populations of small mammals, including mice, voles, rats and chipmunks, in both wooded and deeply wooded areas of the region at varying distances from drilling sites. Results will be shared with the Pennsylvania Biological Survey for possible publication in the Pennsylvania Academy of Science and other refereed ecology journals.
“The educational philosophy of Misericordia has always been to apply what is learned in the class with real-life situations,” said Michael A. MacDowell, president of Misericordia University. “This forest fragmentation study fits that purpose exceedingly well. It will allow excellent biology students to put what they are learning in class into a real-life setting. It will help our students learn science by doing science.”
Misericordia is supporting a portion of the study. In addition, the Williams Companies Foundation has contributed $20,000 to the study and Chesapeake Energy Corporation has provided $24,000. “As funders, we have an interest in using objective, scientific studies to learn what the impacts are from the work we are doing in the region,” said Helen Humphreys, senior communications specialist at Williams.
The study is designed to assess what, if any, impact roads and pipelines associated with the exploration and transportation of natural gas, will have on small animal populations. “Gas drilling is underway around the world, so the question of impact on animal populations is of global concern,” added Dr. Serino.
The study will include the tag and release of small animals indigenous to the region. The animals will be weighed, measured and assessed for overall health and gross anatomical defects. Hair samples will be collected for DNA analysis. None of the animals will be harmed in the process.
“This study will give Misericordia students experience in working with the traps and handling the animals, as well as experience in setting up control and study sites, and gathering and evaluating their data in real time,” Dr. Serino said. Statistical analysis between test sites and controls will be done using appropriate statistical formulas.
“The research project will have the additional benefit of acquainting our students with organizations and companies in this rapidly developing portion of the state to familiarize them with potential future employers both in and outside of the natural gas industry,” President MacDowell added.
Thomas B. Murphy, co-director of the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, Penn State Cooperative Extension, is serving as a technical advisor to the planning committee. He said numerous studies are underway through the Penn State Extension to study the impact of gas drilling on forestry, including one study on the avian population and another on the invasive weed population. “This study fits in with the parameter of others that are being done by other colleges and universities,” Murphy noted. “It is a great opportunity for students to be a part of such a timely study.”
For more information about Misericordia University, call (570) 674-6400 or log onto www.misericordia.edu. Founded and Sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy in 1924, Misericordia University is Luzerne County’s first four-year college and offers 37 academic programs on the graduate and undergraduate levels in full and part-time formats.