On an early summer night, the sounds of trilling crickets, rustling leaves and humming insects are all accompanied by the rumbling of cars in the distance. But there’s more to this scene than first meets the ear.
After sundown, Jason Luscier, Ph.D., and his team of undergraduate students can be seen at various locations throughout the Syracuse area. They’re measuring light and sound; they’re recording the wind speed and temperature; but most importantly?
They’re listening. Their ears are keenly attuned to the distinct calls of three different species: the gray treefrog, the green frog and the American toad.
Luscier, associate professor in Le Moyne’s Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, first began research on frogs and toads in order to understand how they respond to increasing urbanization. “Amphibians as a whole are some of the most threatened, fastest-declining vertebrates on the planet simply because amphibians are semi-aquatic animals that absorb things through their skin,” says Luscier. This attribute makes them particularly vulnerable to factors such as pollution and climate change.
In order to study how they respond to urban variables like light pollution and noise pollution, Luscier first built a map of Syracuse, marking all the areas where frogs and toads might be present versus all the areas they might be absent. With 35 randomized sites in total, Luscier and his team visit these areas from late April to early July, listening for their unmistakable calls. “We’re not trying to count how many frogs or toads; we’re just simply recording whether they are present or absent from any one of our particular sites,” Luscier explains.
The students involved in this research are funded by the McDevitt Center and the Student Research Committee. Haley Synan, an environmental systems science major on Luscier’s research team, found the opportunity to conduct field research invaluable. “This was my first experience doing research that wasn’t in a lab,” she says. “I definitely learned a lot of it involves patience … I think having this background of gathering data, learning how to analyze it, and learning how animals are adjusting to the climate conditions changing will be helpful for me in the future.”
Luscier hopes that by communicating their research findings, the city of Syracuse will be more likely to adapt urban planning strategies that embrace natural areas. These strategies would help not just the frog and toad populations, but also the city’s residents and the local economy. Communities with lots of green spaces tend to be happier and feel more connected with the earth. “Certainly, the city of Syracuse has so many other challenges it’s faced with, and I’d like to propose that this is an umbrella solution that helps to solve many of those problems,” Luscier says.
This ability to recognize that the human world and the natural world are deeply intertwined is something that Luscier strives to teach his students. In order to instill in his students an appreciation for the multifaceted study of ecology, he takes an interdisciplinary approach to teaching. “Ecology is nothing without understanding art and literature and social science, including the political sciences and economics,” he says. “I would like for my students leaving any of my science classes to understand how it fits into the broader world. My hope is that by doing so, students are more engaged citizens with regards to environmentalism.”
The McDevitt Center and the Student Research Committee are part of the $100 million Always Forward campaign, which was publicly announced in June of 2018.