2023 WESEF Bedford Audubon Awards

by Apr 11, 2023News0 comments

Students Amsellem and Stoica presented with the Bedford Audubon Award

Congratulations to this year’s winners of the Bedford Audubon Award, Julien Amsellem and Michael Stoica!  The award was presented on March 23rd at the Regeneron Westchester Science and Engineering Fair (WESEF) award ceremony at Somers High School.  It is annually awarded to the two scholars whose research project’s best exemplify Bedford Audubon’s mission and purpose “to promote conservation and protection of wildlife through education, advocacy, nature study, and/or ornithology”.

Julien’s work on northeastern feeder bird hierarchies and Michael’s project on diagnosing Ash Borer infestation with gas sensors were both excellent, original research projects.  And both students presented their work to our 3-judge panel with high competence.  We congratulate them and wish them all the best in their future science and career endeavors.

Read their abstracts below for more details on this amazing research.

Julien Amsellem

Determining the Interspecific Hierarchies of Northeastern Feeder Birds during Breeding Season

Globally, bird feeding has seen a dramatic rise in popularity, causing many species of bird to share and compete over a single resource. Bird feeders create dominance hierarchies that dictate which species most easily obtain food based on their competitive abilities. Many studies exist on these dominance hierarchies, but very few conducted research during the summer, when bird’s hormones spike and parental urges activate due to breeding season. In this study, interactions between birds were documented at a feeding station in Westchester County, NY from June to August 2022 to determine if breeding season impacts hierarchy. Various behaviors and actions (displacements, aggressive displays) were recorded to create a complete dominance hierarchy between the species, which was compared to a fall-through-spring study as a barometer for breeding season’s impact. Data showed that size played a large role in dominance, with hierarchy having a positive relationship with body mass (p<.05). Dominance levels in this study were similar to those found by Miller et al., 2017, indicating that breeding season may be less influential on dominance hierarchies than hypothesized. Yet, the species to display the most breeding behavior during this study was also the one to have the largest increase in dominance rank between both studies, suggesting actively-breeding species may become more dominant. Additionally, many behavioral trends, like “shift feeding,” were observed during this study and warrant examination in future studies. In the face of an ever-warming planet, this data will be helpful in predicting future dominance hierarchies as breeding seasons lengthen.

Michael Stoica

A Novel Approach to Diagnosing Ash Borer Infestation: The Use of a Portable Gas Sensor to Measure VOC Emissions of Ash Trees

Ash trees (Fraxinus) are being threatened to near extinction in the US by the emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive beetle originating from Asia. Once infested, a tree can only be saved by pesticidal treatment if its infestation is detected early. Early detection is a challenge, because visible symptoms (epicormic shoots, d-shaped exit holes, cracked bark, canopy dieback) appear at later stages of infestation. Currently, there are two early detection methods, both of which are impractical and cannot be used on a widespread scale. The first method is invasive. It involves removing bark to find larva galleries, which is harmful to the tree. Alternatively, gas chromatography, which accurately measures a tree’s changes in gas emissions due to infestation, is non-invasive, but requires laboratory technology. This study aimed to determine whether an affordable, non-invasive, and easy-to-use device, an Arduino-connected Adafruit SGP40 gas sensor, could be utilized in the detection of EAB infestation through measurements of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. The VOC emissions from the inner bark layer(phloem) of 19 non-infested and 15 infested ash trees were measured. A significant difference was found between the two categories (p=0.0015), with the majority of non-infested ash having higher emissions than infested ash. The Adafruit SGP40 gas sensor was effective in discriminating between non-infested and infested ash trees based on inner bark VOC emissions. Future research should determine whether the results can be replicated with a larger sample size and whether the sensor can detect infestation in trees that do not have visible signs of infestation yet.


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Above photo: The 2023 WESEF Awards Ceremony took place at Somers High School in March. Header Photo: Executive Director with Amsellem and Stoica at the Awards Ceremony.

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