The Center of the World
At the Louis Calder Center, faculty and students help the environment one project at a time
Since its founding in 1967, Fordham University’s Louis Calder Center, a 113-acre biological field station in Armonk, N.Y., has given University faculty and students the opportunity to conduct ecological research, with a primary objective of measuring the impact of human effects on the environment.
“Almost every project that goes on around here has some connection to humans and the environment,” said John Wehr, Ph.D., associate professor of biology and director of the Calder Center. “We’re one of the few field stations that is close enough to a large urban center to investigate the effects of urbanization on the natural world.”
Calder is one of the University’s most prized research centers, and thanks in large part to a number of recent high-profile partnerships, grants and groundbreaking research projects, it’s also becoming one of the most respected biological field stations for ecological research and environmental education in the country.
Each summer, the center hosts the University’s Calder Summer Undergraduate Research Program, which sponsors 12 undergraduates from around the country in paid research internships. The program has been in existence since 1998 and is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). This past summer, six of the 12 students were from Fordham.
In June 2008, Fordham entered into partnership with the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) to expand graduate research opportunities at the University, with special emphases in plant sciences, conservation biology and ecology.
“The agreement enhances Fordham’s ability to attract top students nationwide to the biological sciences program,” said Wehr.
At the same time, a new advanced graduate certificate in conservation biology, rolled out last academic year, aims to prepare students for the 21st-century race to save the world’s endangered species and to preserve biodiversity.
The 15-credit certificate program is a product of the University’s partnerships with the NYBG and the Wildlife Conservation Society, headquartered at the Bronx Zoo.
The certificate program was developed by J. Alan Clarke, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, and Amy Tuininga, Ph.D., associate chair of graduate studies at Calder.
“Most of the research we do on site at Calder or in association with the center concerns ecological conservation and public health,” Tuininga said. “This master’s certificate gives students even more specific experience in ecological conservation.”
The center has also entered into a cooperative agreement with the Teatown Lake Reservation, an 834-acre nature preserve and education center located in the Lower Hudson Valley. Fieldwork there will help sustain the diversity of local wildlife, plants and habitats, according to Wehr.
Wehr also works with the U.S. Geological Survey to study a huge archive of phytoplankton samples from the upper Mississippi River, helping to measure the importance of wetlands on the river’s ecosystem. A few times a year, Wehr and his students travel to LaCrosse, Wis., to measure the activity and composition of aquatic organisms and water samples, using experimental enclosures that are dropped in different locations of the upper Mississippi.
These recent partnerships and academic developments come on the heels of the center’s recent five-year contract with New York state to act as its Regional Medical Entomology Laboratory for nine counties in the New York metropolitan area, the most populous region of the state.
The contract, which runs through the end of 2011, designates Calder as one of the state’s focal points for vector-borne disease research and related public health issues. It covers Sullivan, Ulster, Duchess, Putnam, Orange, Rockland and Westchester counties and parts of Long Island. Calder scientists monitor local populations of ticks and mosquitoes, while researching ways to detect and control the risks of diseases these insects carry.
Richard Falco, Ph.D., GSAS ’87, associate research scientist and co-director of Calder’s Vector Ecology Laboratory (VEL) is the medical entomologist for the New York metropolitan region.
“Given our experienced personnel, the strong commitment by Fordham in supporting this kind of work and our location in a suburban, populated habitat where mosquitoes and ticks proliferate, it was a natural place for the state to choose,” Falco said.
The center also recently launched a Fordham Tick Index, a public service instrument developed by Thomas J. Daniels, Ph.D., co-director of the VEL, to measure the risk of encountering the disease-bearing insects in the Westchester, Putnam and Rockland county areas north of New York City.
Similarly, the University established a Manhattan-based Pollen Index to complement its Calder Center counterpart, which began in 1998. Both stations are certified by the National Allergy Bureau of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Fordham scientists take daily measurements of pollen from dozens of species of trees, weeds and grass from their respective aero-allergen monitoring stations: the rooftops of the Calder Center and the School of Law. In addition to providing a service to allergy sufferers, the indices serve valuable scientific purposes, such as increasing the understanding of long-term climate trends that affect pollen levels.
The results are posted at www.fordham.edu/pollen
. During the academic year, the center engages several undergraduates and about a dozen graduate research assistants on projects that often lead to honors, master’s or doctoral theses.
“We try to make Calder a place where students can do good science,” said Wehr. “As with all of the scientists here, our labs don’t work unless we’ve got students happily joining us in our research. In fact, I can’t imagine doing a research project without having students involved. “I think we have had a good impact on a number of people’s careers and lives,” he said.
With all that’s going on at Calder, Wehr and his colleagues are looking for ways to keep up with the increased activity and the growing demand. Plans are currently under way to provide housing for 12 graduate students with the construction of NSF-funded log cabins.
“We can now support students who previously had been unable to work at the station,” said Wehr, “and provide them with training in greater depth, with more on-the-spot studies that make field stations special institutions for learning.