CLAS Acts, December 2015

Monthly newsletter of the CLAS TT Faculty

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Frederick J. Antczak,
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

In light of world events, it seems to me that it is fitting to talk for a moment about the human side of what we do.  No process streamlining, or buildings, or tight budget talk this time.

Listening to our CLAS Student Advisory Committee is always one of the most uplifting hours of my month.  Senior Andrew Plague reminded us of all the important reasons to take the climate survey.  Young, bright leaders around that table explained that they “looked forward for weeks” to the Fall Breather when their professors observed it, or how they “crawled to the end of the week” when most of theirs did not.  They asked us to promote it even more heavily so that all faculty hear about it and distribute the work in such a way as to provide that one clear weekend prior to the drop date in fall.  As one student noted, “Fall is just less smooth than Winter, which has a break.”  When some of our very best students tell me that it is harder to succeed in the fall term, I think we should listen.

I hope you have taken the opportunity to welcome Michelle McCloud, our in-coming Assistant Dean of Finance and Project Management (announced in the 11/17 CLAS Weekly Mailing).  I also hope you are saving the date to help us celebrate Pat Haynes’ 36 years of service and wish her well in retirement—we’d love to have you stop by 308 Padnos between 1-3pm on December 15.

The beginning of this month of December is the opportunity to join with others in our college in listening to the three candidates for the position of CLAS Associate Dean of Curriculum, Pedagogy and Academic Opportunity (CPAO—an acronym pronounced like a wallop).   A very strong pool of individuals put themselves forward and the finalists will be very interesting to hear.  I thank everyone who applied and even those who seriously considered doing so.  Let’s always keep our eye on developing each other’s leadership potential because we need those skilled in such service in governance, administration, and in the chair of units, task forces, searches and so much more. 

Speaking of which, a big thank you, full of my gratitude, to both Donovan Anderson and Corinna McLeod for taking on search committee chair duties for our college.  Your service plates were already quite full and yet you were willing to fill them to Thanksgiving proportions for us.

I’d also like to thank all of the presenters at our CLAS Teaching Roundtables.  You add to our abundance with your willingness to share your approaches to this teaching profession we love.

A couple weeks ago, a student posted her story on the Facebook page “Overheard at GVSU” of how depression and life events led to an unsuccessful term and needing to work hard for readmission—including the difficult task of asking professors you admire to recommend readmission.  She told of how beautifully they did so.  At this time of the term, it can be a bit hard to see how much students appreciate you, that sometimes there is a story behind uneven work, that a single interaction can be transformative.  As my patience with a term wears thin and the snow begins to fall, I try to remind myself of all that.

I wish you all a very successful completion of the fall 2015 term, many occasions to reconnect with your colleagues across the university at the happy events like the CLAS Holiday Open House that are coming up.  And I wish you safe travels and the very best of company as we close out 2015 and begin to discover what 2016 will bring. 

Keeping Up with High Metabolism, High Personality Research Subjects with Paul Keenlance

"You don’t want to be holding them when they wake up,” Paul Keenlance, Assistant Professor of Biology notes about the adorable sedated American martens he and his research team are briefly holding in photos.  “The pictures hook most people,” Paul points out, but he knows they are quite capable of effective self-defense.

He explains that when martens wake up in the recovery box, they quickly dart about 20 meters away and then almost invariably can’t resist giving the researchers a look over their shoulder.  Inquisitive and clever, these high personality creatures also have a high metabolism so can be found seeking food during the day or night.  Without much fat storage, they sleep when they’ve had a good night hunting, but otherwise keep at the business of finding food.  “Mothers of kits are active a lot,” Paul observes.

Traditionally, martens had a range throughout most Alaska, Canada and coniferous forests in the Northwest and mountain states—and at one time even most of Michigan.  Then, by the 1930s, they were pretty much gone from the Lower Peninsula due to over-trapping, land clearing, and other kinds of loss of habitat.

In the 1980s, martens were reintroduced to the Lower Peninsula.  Unexpectedly, the evidence is that the population hasn’t expanded as much as was hoped.

Enter the Marten Project.  The Forest Service contacted the vet at Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana.  The vet knew the senior wildlife biologist in the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians (Jill Witt, now an assistant professor at University of Michigan-Flint).  The biologist had done her PhD on martens.  Paul worked with these and other partners as well as three graduate and six undergraduate Grand Valley students to learn more about what was happening with the Michigan martens.  They discovered that the population was inbred.  Their work drew the attention of the Emmy-nominated show “The Wildlife Docs,” hosted by Grand Rapids native Rachel Reenstra.  A program featuring the researchers aired October 31 on local ABC affiliates, including WZZM 13 and WOTV4.

Much of the field work these researchers are doing involves live trapping.  He notes that the traps are checked daily and they find that the martens seem pretty content to hang out so long as they get the easy food source.  In fact, they often come upon them sleeping in the traps.  One enterprising little fellow was trapped repeatedly for many consecutive days in what seemed like appreciation of the cuisine on offer in his new favorite pop-up restaurant.

Martens are carefully removed from the traps using a protective denim sleeve.  The marten is then anesthetized briefly so that a radio collar can be fitted.  The collars used on males can last from 2-1/2 to 3 years, and those used on the females which are smaller last a bit less.  The groggy martens are protected during their recovery. 

Later, using a directional antennae, the martens can be located in their various resting places.  About 85% of the time, this is up in a tree, often in a place the researchers can actually spot them.  They only seem to seek out a den when they are raising kits, and even those are moved every couple weeks.  

Biologists have observed the nature of the trees that martens select for their resting sites, such as species, live, dead or other factors.  Martens make use of pine, for example, but like the cavities in deciduous trees so it is a mix of these that seems to be important.  The researchers also look at how the collared martens fare, what is different about those habitats which do not seem to support martens, how many of the martens have kits, how many survive over the summer, and other questions that allow them to contribute to an effective plan for managing forest land.

Jill Witt was living in the study area and had access to a house which the research team could use –a huge money saver.  They took great care of the house making it a win-win situation.  The research area is west of Cadillac, north of Baldwin to about Manistee, and is mostly Forest Service land.  The project drew some local interest including volunteer help from a Cadillac waitress.

Recently, some of the martens have been fitted with a higher-tech collar using GPS.  This allows them to use GIS in tracking the martens.  It comes with a hefty price tag relative to the radio collars, but it is helping to plot the martens use of their environment and to see both where the martens were and where they were not, how they are moving when they do move.  This sort of information allows the researchers to develop habitat models extrapolating cross the landscape to help the Forest Service with its management, to tweak habitats so that areas connect.

The research confirms the greatest threat to martens’ lives—the two lane state highway.

One of Paul’s graduate students looked at the genetic diversity problem.  The small population reintroduced in the 1980s could be improved by the introduction of even 25 animals which could be brought into the study area from the Upper Peninsula with the help of the Little River Band.

The research has been supported by everything from Student Summer Scholars here at GVSU to the Little River Band, Detroit Zoo (which funds most of the new GPS collars), and the Forest Service.  Sometimes Paul’s truck is employed and he’s been known to be the funder of the gas.  It is all worth it when he sees his students present posters at the Wildlife Society Conference.  “They get a lot out of that,” Paul explains.

In the future, in addition to strengthening the martens' genetic diversity and monitoring the GPS collars, Paul wants to help the Forest Service improve its management of timber to minimize impacts on martens.  This research is a rare “before and after” opportunity to monitor changes in the use of this area and see how it improves management practices for agencies everywhere.

And then it might be time to look at the biggest thing that martens hunt, snowshoe hares, and how viruses from domestic animals can cause problems for martens.  Whatever the future holds, next year, Paul plans to do some population estimates because right now nobody knows for sure.  His guess is that they’ll see 250 animals in the spring.  Martens are born about the last week of March and first week of April.  Until then there is plenty of data to look at and a few hundred martens out in the study area looking for dinner.

American Marten in a tree