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Scientific journal publishes Environmental Studies and Biology student’s master’s thesis

Environmental Studies and Biology student Jenna Cava's thesis was recently published in a scientific journal
Environmental Studies and Biology student Jenna Cava's thesis was recently published in a scientific journal

January 24, 2019

Cava studied how hayfield management effects the natural selection of a songbird species' body size and shape.
Cava studied how hayfield management effects the natural selection of a songbird species' body size and shape.

Jenna Cava, M.S., ’16 (Biological Sciences) recently published her second thesis chapter, "Heritability and evolvability of morphological traits of Savannah sparrows breeding in agricultural grasslands," in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science.

Cava’s work explored if and how hayfield management in Vermont effects the natural selection of a songbird species’ body size and shape.

She used microsatellite analysis to determine a genetic pedigree of 95 birds that were born in and returned to the study region to breed.

The results indicate that agricultural management has the potential to directly exert natural selection pressures on body mass, with the most pronounced effects on the birds’ reproduction and survival likely to come from hay harvest or grazing events.

“These results illustrate how the effects of agricultural management can overwhelm the processes of natural selection,” said Noah Perlut, Ph.D., associate professor and department chair in the Department of Environmental Studies. “We have an urgent need to create management plans that balance agricultural needs with wildlife needs.”

Perlut and Steven Travis, Ph.D., professor in the Biology Department, were Cava’s graduate co-advisors.

Cava's first thesis chapter, "Why come back home? Investigating the proximate factors that influence natal philopatry in migratory passerines," was published in Animal Behaviour.

Cava is currently a research associate in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Part of her publication costs were funded by the Office of Research and Scholarship.

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