Douglas Santoro '14 in the lab.
Douglas Santoro '14 in the lab.

The glens around campus are some of the most unique features of Hamilton’s 1,350-acre campus. Filled with a variety of trees, wildlife, and nature paths, students often take advantage of the beautiful scenery. However, keen eyes in the biology department took notice of an invasive plant and began investigating its negative impact on the glen environment.

Garlic mustard is a biennial flowering plant that is considered to be an invasive species. The Northeast has been especially prone to this species and it is considered a restricted plant in at least nine states. Different factors, including the lack of insects that eat the mustard seeds and preferential feeding by animals on competing plants, only support the dominance of the garlic mustard population. The plantcan also produce harmful chemicals, which are capable of destroying fungi that are known to aid in the growth of other plants.

Garlic mustard is capable of producing glucosinolates, a known class of chemicals that are toxic to humans and animals. Doug Santoro '14 will collect soil samples at varying distances from the plants and analyze what he collects. He will also be studying different regions where garlic mustard is prevalent or non-existent to see if there are any noticeable differences in the local systems.

Dan Bruzzese ’12 initiated the research with Associate Professor of Biology William Pfitsch and Santoro is continuing the work. Bruzzese was inspired by Pfitsch’s interest in the garlic mustard plants and decided to study their toxic effects himself. Santoro applied his own unique approach to their efforts last summer, and then took on the project as an independent study last semester. Rather than simply examine the toxic effects of the plant, Santoro hopes to attach a more spatial component to the research. He believes that the nematode populations will be more affected by the toxic chemicals produced by the garlic mustard when they are in closer proximity to the plant.

Santoro added that the data collection was “incredibly labor intensive.” The nematodes that he finds will be preserved, mounted on glass slides, and examined under the light microscope. He will be looking to gather data on the number, species composition, and feeding groups of the collected nematodes. Nematodes are not that well known, so the identification of species and their trophic classes will be ambiguous at times. The nematodes are capable of being predators, plant parasites, or bacterial feeders.

Some theories of nematode’s ecological functions have been proposed and they are assumed to play critical roles, but those roles are still unknown. This research is then helpful if it studies how invasive plants affect the native ecology of a potentially important organism.

Fieldwork, where Santoro will actually be collecting the organisms in soil, is a relatively small component of his research. Most of his time will be concentrated in the lab after a day or two of working outside. He will examine the data utilizing PC-ORD, a multivariate statistics program used for the analysis of ecological community data.

While Santoro is still in the data collection process of the research, he is excited as to where the rest of the research can be directed. Plenty of research on invasive species is currently being performed, especially in the Northeast. His work will contribute to a large collection of data that could be beneficial for future students or researchers. Santoro may be approaching the topic with a very micro-oriented procedure, but his results can contribute to a more holistic examination of the effects of garlic mustard or current ecological state of the glen. He has only collected soil samples from the Kirkland and Root Glens, but Bruzzese completed work involving the Rogers Glen as well.

Outside of his summer research, Santoro participates on an intramural volleyball team and is a member of ELS and Rainbow Alliance.

Santoro is a graduate of Ridge High School (Basking Ridge, N.J.)

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