Jen Santoro ’11 enjoyed catching frogs and spending time outside when she was younger, and has an affinity for nature still. Her love for plant life and for creatures flitting from tree to tree translated into a desire to be an environmental studies major, with a focus in biology. Her research partner, Gary Bedrosian ’11, also claims to have loved biology ever since he was very small. Together they are working on a project at the Rome Sand Plains with Associate Professor of Biology William Pfitsch. This summer, their goal is to study the relationship between wild blue lupine plants and the Frosted Elfin butterfly, and how different soil types in the area could lead them to more conclusions on the topic.
The Rome Sand Plains project focuses on restoration. Santoro and Bedrosian are analyzing conservation efforts and trying to determine ways in which lupine might continue to grow with a sustainable population. Their project is significant because it will attempt to re-establish these threatened organisms that were once a staple of their environment. Specifically, they will research the soil characteristics of (soil respiration, loss on ignition measures pH, nematode counts, etc) in lupine habitat as compared to open sand, moss habitat, and established forest. They are also looking to see if certain areas more nematodes than others – this is just one way to compare and contrast soil characteristics of different environments.
“Our project is a different twist on past projects,” Santoro said. What she means is that because they are studying soil characteristics, rather than look at other above-ground aspects of the ecosystem, their project looks at what most students in the past have done from a new perspective.
As a side project, Pfitsch and his colleagues have also discovered that white pines are encroaching on lupine’s territory, while other trees such as oaks and pitch pines affect the lupine at a much slower rate. Frosted Elfin, too, is becoming scarce, and has a short lifespan. Santoro and Bedrosian are sorting through the differences between how well these species do in varying presences of white pine.
After Hamilton, Santoro says that she is interested in going to graduate school for some form of biology or botany. She is a member of the Recycling Task Force and Hamilton Environment Action Group (HEAG) on campus. Bedrosian has slightly unusual post-graduate goals for someone who is doing summer research in environmental biology – he wants to pursue a degree in dentistry. While at school, he plays soccer for Hamilton’s varsity team.
Santoro is a graduate of Ridge High School and Bedrosian graduated from Bethlehem Central High School.