Most people that live by the ocean will tell you that it’s a serene and peaceful place to live, but it’s quite the opposite from the gulls point of view. Throughout the semester we built up to this final project of sorts where we got to choose something to explore concerning stress levels in the gulls of Appledore island based on data we were given from previous years. For my project I chose to look at how the location of the gulls nesting sites affected their stress levels using data from 2017. I predicted that the gulls nesting closer to the rocks would be more stressed than gulls nesting father inland. I found that the average H/L levels (which indicate how stressed a gull is) was 0.58 for the gulls nesting closer or on the rocks and 0.37 for the gulls nesting farther inland. Which I found to be extremely interesting as I was expecting the stress levels for the gulls nesting on the rocks to be much higher. My theory has been that the birds with less competition would have less stress because they’re more spread apart and don’t have to compete with one another for nesting space. This theory may be correct because stress levels were somewhat lower in the birds inland but I would need to see a larger data set in order to feel confident in my theory. While my initial hypothesis wasn’t completely proven, there are suggestions that birds living inland are a bit less stressed out.
This is my bar graph with the data I found:
This is a screen shot of the google earth map I put together of the locations of the gulls nests, corresponding to the numbers at the top of my bars in the graph above:
Image a magical world filled with different forms of communication and tiny, tiny components that can be used to indicate survival. One where the silence and swift movement of appendages can be used to instantaneously convey messages. A place where words are unnecessary and predators are at every corner. A place where fighting for space can mean the difference between death and life. You have just entered the reality of the gulls of Appledore. You don’t have to stand on the Platform 1 and 3-quarters to get there. No, you can come with a whole dollar in your pocket in the form of 4 quarters. If you want to wear your Dumbledore hat, that’s entirely up to you.
WHAT YOU GOT OUT OF IT:
They say you get back what you put in. I am not entirely sure who this “they” is, and what this “collective they” surmises what we’re all putting in, or must put in, but I took away a lot of meaningful concepts about immunology in avian species from my study of the gulls of Appledore. Like most students, I surmise my limited exposure to mammal immunology was not considered out of the ordinary. Having the ability to work on enhancing this element of my skill set was appreciated, since most instructors like to focus on other species. The highlights of what I learned that I think will be the most helpful to build on later is the following:
Heterophils are part of the immune system for birds, and looked to as the first line of cellular defense against invading microbial pathogens.They have phagocytic capabilities, allowing heterophils to ingest bacteria and other foreign invaders (Rogers, 2020b).
Lymphocytes are part of the immune response system. Receptor molecules on the surface of lymphocytes have the ability to bind to specific antigens, allowing the immune system the ability to respond to foreign invaders (Rogers, 2020a).
Heterophils and lymphocytes are used in a ratio as a way to gain a better understanding about the health of birds. Researchers value this ratio under the belief that it reflects a bird’s readiness to cope with infection. It is posited that heterophil numbers are a reflection of infection via injury, while lymphocyte counts are associated with infection from communicable diseases (Minias, 2019).
Isn’t it said that you’re the one that gets to ascribe value to things? I feel like I’ve heard that throughout my life. We live in a society that attempts to dictate what we’re supposed to value, and how we’re supposed to see it. Truthfully, I’ve never really paid much mind to what society claims I’m supposed to value, or what we’re all supposed to value. I think the majority of us are equipped to determine such things on our own. When it comes to the gulls of Appledore, my realizations extended beyond “this time and place,” and pushed into a larger picture of understanding in my mind. It went into concepts that are timeless and can be applied to larger elements, rather than just one location and one avian group of “heroes and villains” fighting to survive.
I really valued discovering how complicated the collection of data and blood samples are in general. Yes! Didn’t expect that one, did you? Hey, what can I say? I like biology and learning about the blood.
As a class we reviewed some articles that described the technique needed to obtain avian blood samples, transport them, and store them. I was fascinated. I found it incredibly detailed and complicated with a great deal of “some do it this way, I prefer.” Needless to say, techniques are important for consistency, quality, and “best practices” for the bird itself. If you’re going to do anything in this world, please have an understanding as to why. If you must have madness, give yourself a method!
SOMETHING THAT INTRIGUED:
Remember that song with the lyrics “this land is your land, this land is my land”? In the bird world it seems like the song should more appropriately be sung, “this land is my land, stay away from my land.” Next time you’re standing amongst a group of birds posturing for dominance and territory, try singing it in your head, scripting the interaction they are having amongst each other. Maybe you’ll chuckle. Maybe you’ll wish you had some bread in your hand to get the birds to be nicer.
Territoriality and aggression regarding avian species is a great deal more involved than it appears. There are different types of body language and sounds that birds use as signalling to convey a multitude of messages to other birds. For example, there are mating sounds and physical actions that the birds do to attract partners, as well as sounds and nonsound signalling that birds engage in to defend against outsiders once they are parents. When sound signals fail, violence can erupt, resulting in threats, boundary disputes, and attacks by predators. Physical signalling can come in handy to convey meaningful messages, but it seems the communication process is best when sound and physical signals are combined to project dominance (Dantzker & Brown, 2009). As the sayings go, “move fast and break things,” “be loud and proud,” “leave your mark on this earth,” “fight for what you want.” I feel like this is the anthem of the gulls of Appledore.
SOMETHING THAT CHALLENGED:
Ah, challenges. Nothing like adding a little stress to the mix to make yourself push past comfort zones. Growth… Is this what is meant by “growing pains”? Perhaps, the definitions aren’t as narrow as we all surmised. Personally, I think growth pains can include pushing past your comfort zone to learn new things.
Breaking free from my comfort zone found me in the microscopic realm. Welcome to the world of blood smears. Reading blood smears was and is very challenging. Even with an excellent microscope, it can be difficult on a blood smear image to determine with full confidence that the microscopic element you are viewing is in fact that component and not one that looks rather similar. As a class we all felt anxiety, wanting to be able to definitively say what we were looking at in a blood smear. For example, that a particular slide image contained “x number” of heterophils and “y number” of lymphocytes. A collective sigh of relief was felt when our instructor admitted that it can be a challenging task, which is why it is best to have 1 person do a count because it will make the data more consistent, in that the same style will be used throughout. We all had the “a-ha, so it doesn’t need to be perfect because it can’t ever really be perfect” moment. It was comforting. It is life. Was it Oprah that started the whole “live your truth,” “live your best life” adages? Well, Oprah, even if it wasn’t you, truth is in fact somewhat subjective, I suppose… And, “best life”? …If blood is the life force, well, there’s no such thing as the “best” slide. There’s just the “specimen that must make due.”
SOMETHING THAT SURPRISED:
Admit it: when you watched or read Harry Potter, you totally thought about which house you wanted to join. You probably thought about which one your siblings or significant other should be in too. You probably sat there shocked about the houses that your favorite Potter characters found themselves in. It was stressful, wasn’t it? In some strange way, you had emotions towards these houses! “But it’s so silly,” you probably tried to reason with yourself. Was it? Do we all stress the same? Is there something about who we are that has a tie to how we perceive or experience stress?
I had assumed, based on the research that I had done regarding birds that the gulls of Appledore would exhibit similar relationships as other birds had between stress levels and mass. Based on this premise, I had surmised the following:
Gulls that are less massive will be more stressed than gulls that are more massive.
The higher stressed gulls (less massive) will have higher H:L than lower stressed (more massive) gulls.
I decided to create a statistical analysis using regression to analyze the relationship between H:L ratios and the mass of birds using the data collected during 2019 from the gulls of Appledore. The hypotheses:
H0: There is no relationship between H:L ratios and the mass of gulls.
H1: H:L ratios and the mass of gulls are linearly related.
What I found, to my surprise, was that there was no statistically significant linear relationship between H:L ratios and the mass of the gulls at Appledore during 2019. I used a 95% confidence interval. Looking at the data below, the quickest way to determine nonsignificance is the fact that the upper bound and lower bound values for the confidence interval passes from negative to positive. The p-value can also be used, which would need to be less than 0.05 to be statistically significant at a 95% confidence interval. My p-value was 0.47, which is not statistically significant. The scatterplot of the data below also does not follow the linear regression line imposed on the graph; this indicates that data is not linearly related.
Is life really like a box of chocolates? Will we ever know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Did and does Ms. Carrington actually use fly legs in that cake she makes for her 6th grade science class to eat each year? Can I believe something is perfect even if I know it has flaws? There are just some mysteries in life we will never absolutely know, but have a pretty good idea about the solution. While we all strive for “truth” – be it “Oprah’s truth,” your truth, or my truth – the fact remains that the gulls of Appledore are ready and willing to let others join their world as observers and researchers and scientists to understand a bit more about avian truth. I recommend checking it out. If you want to put 3 or 4 quarters in your pocket along with a dollar, that’s entirely up to you. As always, wizard house hats are optional; New England can be fairly windy.
Dantzker, M., & Brown, D. O. (Directors). (2009). Signals for survival [Video]. Cornell Lab of Ornithology & Shoals Marine Laboratory.
Juul-Madsen, H. R., Viertlboeck, B., Hartle, S., Smith, A. L., & Gobel, T. W. (2014). Innate immune responses. In K. A. Schat, B. Kaspers, & P. Kaiser (Eds.), Avian immunology (2nd ed.) (pp. 121 – 147). Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-396965-1.00007-8
Minias, P. (2019). Evolution of heterophil/lymphocytes ratios in response to ecological and life-history traits: A comparative analysis across the avian tree of life. Journal of Animal Ecology, 88(4), 554-565. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656
I signed up for Introductory Biology I, I did not think anything of it, just another class I must take to get my degree, no big deal. I assumed it would be like every other science class I had taken. The teacher would talk information in our direction, and I would memorize it long enough to pass the exam. Man was I wrong. From the beginning, we were encouraged to try new things and ask questions. My professor wanted us to be curious, and curious I was.
From the first video we watched about the gulls, I was intrigued. From the communication between gulls to dealing with hurdle after hurdle. The gulls faced an abundance of difficulties on the island, but still managed to persevere. For example, there was not enough food sources on the island to support all the gulls, so not all of them survived. It really was an early bird gets the worm kind of situation. Surely all these obstacles must have caused them some stress, but how much? Using data collected from studies done on the gulls in previous years, we analyzed the H:L ratios (heterophil to lymphocytes, two kinds of white blood cells that determine the stress of the gulls) of the gulls. There are so many different things that could affect their H:L ratios. I had so many options. From things like the site of their nest to their age to the quality of their mate. The list goes on and on.
Overall, I could not believe that the same things that tend to stress us out, also effects the gulls. This goes to show an even deeper part of evolution I fear I would have never uncovered if not for this class. We are not just related in terms of physical features, but also mentally. In the ways we communicate to the things we stress about. Sure we each have our differences, I mean can you picture a herring gull pulling his feathers out in bumper to bumper traffic? No, but you can imagine them worrying that their partner is not compatible? Maybe. You can certainly picture both us and the gulls worrying about where our next meal is coming from.
[This is the first post by this semester’s Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) students. These students were all enrolled in my Intro Biology course at Northern Essex Community College, and pursued their own research projects using gull data!]
When tasked with trying to discover what exactly causes the gulls of Appledore Island to stress out, I asked myself, “When do I feel most stressed?” While thinking it over, my stomach started rumbling for my 2pm pick-me-up smoothie and I could no longer focus on the assignment. I was groggy and irritable but knew I needed to power through and get my work done. That’s when it hit me. There’s a reason I always carry around a granola bar and have stashes of cashews in every bag I own. If being hungry makes me miserable, surely the gulls of Appledore would feel the same way.
I decided a gull’s food availability would be a good place to start on our class journey to discovering what exactly it is that raises these bird’s H:L ratio (heterophil to lymphocytes, two kinds of white blood cells used in measuring stress levels in gulls). I immediately hit a snag as there was nothing in the data that specifically indicated how much food was available to each bird, so I scanned it again to see if anything did seem relevant. I thought of how a human’s weight generally correlates with the amount of food they are eating and sure enough, the gull’s masses were recorded. In the 2019 data there was an additional column titled “Total Protein” that also seemed like a good indicator of healthy vs starving gulls.
To my surprise, there didn’t seem to be any connection to be made between mass, protein, or stress. The H:L levels were all over the place regardless of a bird’s size or total protein. If they’re anything like I am, they’re probably stressed about homework and money.
Today’s post comes to us from Courtney Walsh. Courtney is from Newburyport MA. She played field hockey in high school and wishes NECCO had a team. She did Best Buddies where she realized she enjoys helping others. She went to Haiti on a mission trip and decided one day she would love to work with people, especially kids, who are less fortunate. Her major is Psychology and someday she hopes to work with kids who are not as fortunate and set them on a good path to success (in whatever makes them happiest).
I hate science, I have never been good at it and I always go into it thinking that maybe this year will be different and it never is. I put so much time and effort into something that I know I will never succeed in, but this semester was different. I went into this biology class thinking the same thing I always think: maybe this year will be different. I went from every class to every lab more confused. This was the first time in my life that I was content with being confused. Not only did I enjoy learning about gulls but learning more about myself; I realized that it is okay to be confused and not understand. Trial and error was a main part of this class and I was forced to adapt to that. Kind of like how gulls have to adapt to things. I never would have thought that sitting in a lab learning about gulls could help me learn about myself. My first thought when hearing we would be learning about gulls was, boring. Boring was the last thing it was; I not only learned about gulls but learned how to ask better questions. I learned that when I am questioning something, I should do research and ask more questions. But the most important lesson I learned in lab was that it is okay to be wrong. I struggled a lot but this class made me grow as a person and want to learn more about the gulls of Appledore. One part of this class was to draw a dichotomous key, I remember sitting for hours trying to figure out how I would do it and how I would get a satisfactory on it. I never got a satisfactory on it, I still need more work on it. Initially when I received the grade I was upset but the fact is it wasn’t satisfactory. I really thought I understood how to read and tell the difference between blood cells. I knew the general ideas but clearly not enough and it something that I want to learn more about and understand better. I don’t know if I ever will fully understand it I know I want to know more.
Today’s post is by Amelia Smith. Amelia is from Haverhill, MA. Her hobbies include photography, music, and health and fitness. Her ultimate career goal is to become a licensed social worker helping children and adolescents. She plans to transfer to a four year school in fall 2021 after earning her Associates at NECC.
When I enrolled in Introductory Biology I at NECC, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. It had been a few years since I had taken high school biology and I was looking forward to taking college level biology. However, nothing was mentioned ahead of time about the non-traditional class format. I typically prefer hands-on learning experiences, but the CURE model (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience) intimidated me when I heard about it during the first couple of classes.
Math and science are not necessarily my academic strengths, so the research tasks and assignments proved to be challenging for me. It was evident that Professor Courchesne loved her work with the gulls, but I wondered if I could understand and benefit from what seemed like a daunting topic. The lab experience and assignments gave me a taste of the true nature of scientific research, but sometimes I missed the clear-cut instructions and expectations that come with traditional textbook learning.
As Professor Courchesne mentioned, our weekly lab time was devoted to the Gulls of Appledore research and the assignments outside of class were also directly related to the research. During the semester we studied gull behavior, dissected gull carcasses, examined blood smear slides, identified types of blood cells, discussed population sampling and analyzed data using spreadsheets. The skill I enjoyed learning the most was how to look at spreadsheet data. Even though we only had time for a brief introduction, the assignments that involved data analysis piqued my interest.
Because of the digital age we live in, most fields rely on data to gain insight and to inform decisions. I intend to pursue a degree in social work, and I have heard that the way in which data is used and collected has a large impact on the social work profession. In her article “Big Data’s Impact on Social Services”, Lindsey Getz alludes to the fact that reliable research data can lead to improved understanding of the reasons for social problems.
Getz spoke with a business consultant firm that believes that properly collecting and utilizing data can allow social workers to get ahead of negative trends. The article gives the example of collecting data that would identify the reasons for youth disengagement in education and how the data can then be used to create more targeted preventative measures.
While data analysis may not specifically appear on the list of skills needed to be a social worker, critical thinking usually does. My critical thinking skills were certainly tested this semester, and any improvements I made were largely due to Professor Courchesne’s dedication to our biology class and the CURE model. Looking back, I am grateful for the opportunity to dabble in scientific research methods and I can see that I gained some valuable skills.
Today’s post is by Karla Canas-Deras. Karla is majoring in Psychology and wants to become a clinical social worker. If she’s not at work or the gym then she is binge-watching shows on Netflix. Mostly the foody/cultural ones. Street Food is a good one!
Reading blood smears and understanding how they were different from one another was a lot harder than I had thought, this includes reading blood cells as well. The labs were always intimidating due to the lack of prior knowledge in biology. The first challenge I had was getting used to the microscope.
Once I knew where things moved and how they moved I was ready to grab a slider and place it in the slide holder. Once the slider was there, I moved the slide around to find the parts within the blood smear.
There was a lot of adjusting that needed to be done to focus on the cells in one section. With a lot of practice and patience, it became easier to focus and count the types of blood cells in the smears. Ex. Below are two pictures I took from my slide. (It had taken 3 microscopes and some help to be able to view this. I also wear glasses so there was a lot of adjusting myself to be able to see the cells.)
In this first picture, I see one heterophil and two lymphocytes. There are red blood cells everywhere in this picture. The heterophil is a larger circle instead of an oval. It’s size varies but it contains granules within the nucleus. Lymphocytes are much smaller and are an imperfect circle. Their colors are much lighter than the other cells.
In this picture, there are two heterophils and what looks like three lymphocytes.
The number of cells in the smear vary and end up decreasing when moving towards the feathered edge.
Being able to see the cells up close and clearer gave me such a relief. Everything online just made it seem more complex and difficult to learn. Being hands-on made the experience much better.
Today’s post is by Remy Adamsky. Remy is a Liberal Arts major with an eye toward a biology degree after eventual transfer. After that? They are interested in wildlife science and veterinary medicine, and I see no ceiling to what they could achieve in any of those fields!
I knew Biology 111 was going to be my favorite class of the semester when Professor Courchesne enthusiastically informed us all that she would be bringing in a black garbage bag of dead baby birds for us to cut open. I don’t believe that most people’s idea of a good time is cutting open dead chicks that are all in various states of decay, but I don’t believe that most people are as excited about the study of biology as Professor Courchesne. Her announcement was met with mixed feelings – I saw the eyes of the other biology lovers light up with excitement and heard the more squeamish among us sigh uncomfortably. I couldn’t wait and honestly, what better an experience to break the ice between the new classmates than wiping out a scalpel and checking out some gull guts?
Even the most excited among us were hesitant when dissection day came around, all tentatively getting in line to pick out lucky gull carcass out of the bag. Nervous laughter and the smell of rotting gull innards filled the room as we all began the process of opening up our birds. My partner was less eager to dive into the tiny dead gull that laid before us so I joked around with her and tried to make her feel more comfortable, as this clearly wasn’t her idea of a great biology class. Despite her obvious discomfort with the situation, I managed to get a few laughs from her and we worked incredibly well together. When she wasn’t comfortable looking at the tiny bird guts I was poking around in, I helped her out by explaining what I was seeing so that she could still gain the knowledge of the experience. The assumption that this experience would bring us together was right and my dissection partner and I quickly became good friends.
Starting off the semester by jumping straight into a full dissection of the main birds we would be studying was honestly an amazing idea on Professor Corchesne’s end. I’m sure that the main purpose of this lab was to get us familiar with the birds we would be studying this semester, but it also proved to be an incredible, if not unconventional, ice breaker. From that day, I knew that Biology 111 would be my favorite class of my first semester at Northern Essex and I am truly grateful for the people I met and the experiences I gained from this class.
Today’s post, by Liberal Arts major Ally Farah, almost made me cry when I read it. Even if a kindled passion for spreadsheets doesn’t choke you up, I suspect you will nonetheless enjoy Ally’s perspective on the semester’s work.
I used to say I was not a “science person”. I used to find it a bit dreary and repetitive. I felt like if you wanted to be a good scientist, you had to be good at memorizing things even if you don’t really understand the concept.
And then I took this class.
Currently, I am a liberal arts student and I am having a hard time picking a career path. I took this class initially as a prerequisite, and did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did.
We started this semester with an awesome concept called CURE which stands for Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience. This gave us students a platform to learn some basic biology concepts in our day to day classes, and we also participated in a weekly lab on a research project for the Gulls of Appledore. This research project allowed us students to collaborate as a class to collect, analyze, and record data on these gulls. This resulted in lots of experience for our class.
One thing I found super interesting, among many others, was the use of spreadsheets in science to record our data. We got to come together as a class to consider many things, including the use of a spreadsheet for our data. But, I never thought about the different ways data could be placed on a spreadsheet for easier access. There is a tab that can be added to a spreadsheet that is used as a data dictionary. This is where spreadsheet contributors can add words and definitions for some who may have trouble understanding some science terms, or the context of the words. Another interesting part of spreadsheets was the organization of the columns. Each column should be labeled, and the labels should include an underscore for where spaces should be. For example, we labeled band number as band_number in the spreadsheet. Another important spreadsheet tip is to never leave cells empty. All cells should be filled and they should be filled as N/A (or whatever the author chooses). This helps others to distinguish between information that was intentionally left blank due because of lack of data, or information that was accidentally forgotten about. Configuring data is super important to organize information that could possibly be used for scientific studies, and it is important that outside readers can understand your spreadsheets for this reason.
This class taught me much about spreadsheets and blood smears, but more importantly I learned that anyone can be a scientist if the information interests you enough that you want to keep working at it to find any possible outcomes. Science is about persevering really, and I feel like this class taught me how to do that competently. To sum up this class time we have shared together, I would say that the number one thing I learned is to never give up on the possibility of gaining new knowledge, and always stay interested in learning how the world works. I now consider myself a scientist, even if that is not my profession. Thank you, Professor!
Today’s post comes to us from Erik Mueller. Erik is currently finishing up an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts before continuing on in his academic and career goals. He has always had an interest in the sciences and in learning.
Coming into this class back in September 2019, I was expecting a more typical biology course and lab. Typical cellular examination under microscopes, identifying organelles and what their function is, and hearing everyone’s favorite takeaway “Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”. I would have made a bet that this would have been an easy class and that I would have been bored. My bank account would be lighter had I followed through on that bet. The lab, and the work we did on the Gulls of Appledore project, was both exhilarating and informative, and was something I would suggest to any prospective student who needs a biology elective from Northern Essex.
What really intrigued me more than anything else was the idea that a creature as seemingly unintelligent as a gull could experience stress, a phenomenon more closely associated with higher intelligence creatures to the average human being. Looking into things further, both on my own and through lab, I realized how wrong I was. But what is stress? According to Medline, stress is “a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes [you] feel frustrated, angry, or nervous.” When you look at it through such a simple and broad lens, it does make sense that a creature like a seagull could feel stress, but what does a seagull have to stress about?
This was the big question submitted to us at the beginning of the semester, and it was up to us to come up with a probable hypothesis and find the evidence to back it up. One of the most common possibilities of stress in a seagull was food availability. The less food you have access to, the hungrier you are, and the more you stress about where and when your next meal will be. Other stressors included proximity to humans, if you were not the first-born chick, and even feuding with other gulls of both your species and other species. Once we had our hypothesis, we would use blood evidence gathered by the interns working on the Appledore project to determine whether our hypothesis held merit. Said blood evidence came in the form of two types of white blood cells; heterophils and lymphocytes. The ratio of these two helps to determine the long-term stress level of the bird. The higher the ratio, the more likely the bird is stressed.
Even if you enter this class with a severe dislike or even a phobia of seagulls, you will still find the information you glean from here interesting and informative. While my thoughts on seagull intelligence has not changed from when I saw five of them go after a piece of paper left in a McDonald’s parking lot, I learned more about birds and stressors than I would have though going in.