NGS/Waitt Grants Program: March & April Awards 2011

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Linking Ecosystem-Based Management to Conservation: Understand and Mitigating Bycatch of Irrawaddy Dolphins in Southeast Asia

Administered by National Geographic Mission Programs, the NGS/Waitt Grants Program makes grants between $5,000 and $15,000 for exploratory research – below is a list of the most recent awards granted. To date, the program has funded over 150 field projects. For more information on the program, please visit the NGS/Waitt Grants section of our website.ngs_logo.jpg

ARCHAEOLOGY

 

Grantee: Erich Fisher
Region: Africa
Project: Reconnaissance for Coastal Stone Age Archaeological Sites within Pondoland, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Abstract: The Pondoland Paleoclimate, Paleoenvironment, Paleoecology, and Paleoanthropology project (P5) will survey for Pleistocene Stone Age archaeological sites (300 — 30 ka) along a remote and poorly studied 100 km area within Pondoland along South Africa’s East Coast. The re­search area is a biodiversity hot-spot, and it is known also to contain numerous caves and rock shelters in river gorge and coastal cliff faces, which often protect fragile archaeologi­cal deposits like shell middens and bones. Pondoland lays adjacent to a very narrow continental shelf that minimized coastline flux during the Pleistocene when up to 80,000 km2 of new land was exposed along the west and south coasts. The stable shoreline and the warm waters of the Agulhas current created the ideal context to maintain a predictable reserve of terrestrial and marine plant and animal foods during the Pleistocene, including protein-rich shellfish, which may have promoted the sustained occupation of the region by hunter-gatherers. We predict that the caves and rock shelters in Pondoland will contain unprecedented and con­tinuous archaeological records documenting human adapta­tion to coastal resources and the origins of modern humans during the Pleistocene. Fieldwork (6 to 8 weeks) will be undertaken by a survey team of 4-6 experienced research­ers working with local guides. The coastal cliffs and caves provide picturesque backdrop to the research, being ideally suited for National Geographic media, and the research topic of modern human origins is one of continued interest to the educated public.

 

Grantee: Frederick Hanselmann
Region: North America
Project: Spring LakeUnderwater Geoarchaeology Survey

Abstract: The San Marcos Springs in central Texas have been a source of fresh water supporting human activity for thousands of years. Previous excavations carried out in Spring Lake during the late 1970s led to exciting archaeo­logical discoveries extending back to Clovistimes. The frederick-hanselmann.jpgSpring Lake Geoarchaeology Survey seeks to gather initial data concerning the paleoenvironment of Spring Lake, an area that sustained what may be one of the longest uninter­rupted occupation sequences in North America. Objec­tives of the survey are twofold. First, a geophysical survey utilizing an echo sounder and a sub-bottom profiler will be carried out in order to study the topography of the lakebed, which is cloaked in heavy vegetation. This effort will focus on examining the ancient riverbed of the San Marcos River as related to the springs, and identifying possible sub­merged landforms and alluvial deposits potentially contain­ing archaeological remains. Second, an extensive coring regime will be conducted. Following the collection of the core samples, analysis and interpretation of the stratigraphic sequences, coupled with the dating of organic materials found within the samples, will provide much greater insight and understanding of the environment in which ancient inhabitants of the Central Texas region lived. Data acquired will contribute significantly to the development of the overall long-term research design for future investigations at Spring Lake.

 

Grantee: Stacie King
Region: Mexico
Project: Zapotec Sacred Worlds in the Aftermath of Conquest: Exploring the Hidden Caves of Cerro del Convento

Abstract: Between A.D. 1400 and 1600, people in Nejapa, Oaxacawitnessed the onslaught of three different conquest empires, the Zapotec, Aztec, and Spanish, as they made their way from the Mexican highlands to the rich Pacific coast. Cerro del Convento played a particularly stacie-king.jpgimportant role in these conquest events. During the fifteenth century, it was the location of a Zapotec fortress, from which Zapotec soldiers monitored and intercepted enemy Aztecs. Also, a famous Zapotec warrior is believed to be buried there. A century later, Cerro del Convento’s caves and tomb re­mained prominent in local residents’ political and sacred worlds and they continued to leave offerings at the site. Responding to reports of idolatrous religious ceremonies, the Dominican friar Juan Ruiz destroyed the cave and tomb contents in front of native converts in the late 1500s. With NGS Waitt funding, I would like to explore the hidden caves of Cerro del Convento to see what, if anything, Spanish friars left behind. In May 2011, a team of archaeologists and climbing specialists will document all artifacts, paintings, and features inside the caves.

 

BIOLOGY

 

Grantee: Leontine Becking
R
egion: Asia
Project: Hidden Islands within Islands: The Discov­ery of Unexplored Marine Lakes in Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Abstract: Marine lakes are fascinating yet underexplored ecosystems. These land-locked water bodies constitute natural laboratories of evolution with high levels of ende­mism, and are strongly reminiscent of terrestrial islands from both ecological and evolutionary perspectives. Unfortu­nately, in line with their terrestrial counterparts, they are also extremely vulnerable and increasingly subjected to anthro­pogenic threats. There is thus a strong necessity to discover and study these lakes in order to better protect them. The region of Raja Ampat (West Papua, Indonesia) is situated in the Coral Triangle, the centre of maximum marine species richness, and is considered the most diverse with regard to species and marine habitats. It contains a high abundance of marine lakes, mostly unknown to science. With increasing development in the region it is vitally important to identify endemic, rare, threatened and highly unique elements of the region’s marine biodiversity, so that appropriate and timely conservation measures can be initiated. Our objective is to conduct the first comprehensive study of Raja Ampat’s marine lakes.

 

Grantee: Adrian Gleiss
Region: Oceania
Project: Does Locomotor Performance Compro­mise Freshwater Residence of Sharks?

Abstract: Elasmobranchs (Sharks, rays and skates) occur in all of the world’s oceans. In marine waters, they are rela­tively abundant and diverse adrian-gleiss.jpgyet only 5% of all species are encountered in freshwater, compared to 40% of all species of teleost (bony fish). Whereas most species of teleost have a swim-bladder that can provide buoyancy via gas secretion, elasmobranchs are only equipped with a liver constituting of low-density lipid. Otherwise, position in the water column is maintained by swimming. The lower density of freshwater doubles the negative buoyancy of a marine shark, which cannot be compensated by simply increasing liver size, which would, otherwise, have to increase in volume 10-fold. We therefore expect the activity costs of sharks to increase in freshwater, as counteracting buoyancy is energetically costly. This project aims to investigate the consequences of water density on the morphology and energetics of two elasmobranch species occurring at varying salinity regimes, the bull shark and the freshwater sawfish. We will determine the salinity regime individual animals have been exposed to and measure behavioural morphological compensation by various techniques. This project suggests a new hypothesis which explains the low abundance and diversity of elasmo­branchs in freshwater by invoking buoyancy control prob­lems.

 

Grantee: Scott LaPoint
Region: North America
Project: Animal-defined Corridors: Using Animal Movement and Behavior to Determine Corridors

Abstract: Protecting wildlife corridors is now status quo in our efforts to increase landscape connectivity across fragmented ecosystems. scott-la-point.jpgUnfortunately, current methods for identifying corridors are largely based on a priori as­sumptions and expert opinion (i.e., expert-defined), and are rarely validated with independent data. Here we propose a new method for identifying and validating corridors using new data on where animals actually go. We will deploy new prototype tracking collars on fisher (Martes pennanti) along a gradient of urban-to-wild landscapes in eastern New York. These tracking collars contain both a GPS and an acceler­ometer (ACC), which measure fine-scale body motion. We use the ACC data as a measure of overall animal activity and also translate it into specific behaviors. A key innova­tion of these new collars is a connection between the ACC sensor and the GPS unit to dynamically set the fix schedule depending on the animal’s behavior. This provides much more detailed location data when the animal is traveling, and fewer wasted fix attempts when the animal is sleeping. We will use the movement data to identify potential corridors (i.e., animal-defined corridors) and then use the ACC behav­ior data to validate these.

 

Grantee: Robert Tropek
Region: Africa
Project: History and future of mysterious afromon­tane butterflies

Abstract: The Gulf of Guinea Highlands, a centre of ende­mism and high conservation importance on a global scale, represent the only large robert-tropek.jpgmountain system in West and Cen­tral Africa. Proposed study constitutes the complex research on multi-species comparative phylogeography and popula­tion genetics in the Central African mountains, a research necessary for setting the most urgent conservation targets and for revealing ecological and evolutionary patterns characteristic for the Afromontane ecosystems. As a model taxon, we have chosen butterflies, comprising well-surveyed indicator taxon with well-developed field and laboratory methods. Furthermore, they offer a remarkable number of mountain specialists restricted to the area. We aim to pursue a detailed study of endemics and Afromontane specialists. Phylogeographic data combined with population genetics will allow us to assess the patterns of dispersion and evolu­tion of the area and its fauna, the vulnerability of its com­munities and, finally, to characterise the areas important for conservation efforts.

 

Grantee: Tara Whitty
Region: Asia
Project: Linking Ecosystem-Based Management to Conservation: Understanding and Mitigating Bycatch of Irrawaddy Dolphins in Southeast Asia

PD*7504686Abstract: Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) occur in small, fragmented populations throughout Southeast Asia. The bycatch (accidental capture) of Irrawaddydolphins in artisanal (small-scale) fisheries poses a major threat to their continued existence. Because these fisheries are a vital livelihood for coastal communities, it is neither sufficient nor ethical to focus only on “saving the dolphins”. Irrawaddydol­phin conservation must address the needs of local human populations in the context of ecosystem-based management (EBM), an emerging paradigm in marine conservation that stresses holistic, interdisciplinary understanding of ecosys­tems, including human socioeconomic and cultural systems.

 

GEOGRAPHY

Grantee: Michael Routhier
Region: North America
Project: Impact Assessment of Tidal Forcing and Sea Level Rise on Salt Water Intrusion for Coastal Cultural Heritage Sites

Abstract: Due to climate change, increased frequency of severe storm surges, changing salinization levels, and increased flooding are just a few issues historical preser­vationists will have to consider in the future. These issues will have a far greater impact on Low Elevation Coastal Zones (LECZ). Historically, LECZs have had high population density due to the concentration of marine fisheries based resources, ease of transportation along coastal water ways, and their association with fertile river deltas. The density of human populations around these regions has resulted in the concentrated stratification of rich cultural heritage deposits. We propose to investigate the effects that climate change and sea level rise will have on the intrusion of the salt water into LECZ aquifer to interpolating their effects on coastal cultural heritage sites. By using high resolution aerial Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data, existing GIS data sets, National Register of Historic Places building submissions, Geographic Positioning System (GPS) data, water-level data logger data, and water quality testing we will create a detailed susceptibility map of Low Elevation Coastal Zones (LECZ) in and around Strawbery Banke and the surround­ing Historic District of Portsmouth, N.H.. It is our intent to develop a set of methods that will allow for the creation of vulnerability assessments and adaption strategies for coastal cultural heritage sites around the globe.

 

PALEONTOLOGY

 

Grantee: Jonah Choiniere
Region: Mongolia
Project: Hunting for Jurassic Dinosaurs in Western Mongolia

Abstract: The Jurassic Period was an important time in dino­saurian evolution. During this time, dinosaurs attained enor­mous sizes and birds evolved. Unfortunately, our knowledge of Jurassic dinosaurs is derived from just a handful of fossil sites worldwide. Dinosaur fossils from Mongolia have been among the most Exif_JPEG_PICTURE                                              significant paleontological finds of the last century, but these fossils are from the Cretaceous Period, at least 75 million years after the Jurassic Period. There are only two Jurassic sites in Mongolia that have yielded dino­saur fossils, named Shar Teg and Dariv. Because of their remote location on the flanks of the Altai Mountains in the western province of Gobi-Altai, these sites have been only infrequently visited by paleontologists. With the American Museum of Natural History research group, I briefly visited Shar Teg in 2010. Although we could only prospect for fos­sils for two days, we found the remains of large sauropod dinosaurs, and recovered skulls of primitive crocodilians and mammals. I seek National Geographic funding to search for Jurassic dinosaur fossils in the Shar Teg and Dariv beds and to more thoroughly explore these little-known loca­tions. Excavations in Jurassic fossil beds in the neighboring Chinese province of Xinjiang, partially funded by the Na­tional Geographic Society, have produced important fossils that clarify the early evolution of dinsoaur groups, such as tyrannosaurs. This project has the same potential to produce significant research findings.

Total Awards (2008 – Present): 164

Total Awards by Discipline:

Archaeology – 33
Biology – 56
Geography – 9
Geology – 9
Nautical Archaeology, Underwater – 16
Oceanography, Biological – 19
Oceanography, Physical – 6
Paleontology – 16

Total Awards by Region:

Africa / Madagascar – 28
Asia – 29
Atlantic Ocean – 1
Central America / Caribbean – 27
Europe – 7
North America – 39
Oceania – 9
South America – 24


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