Exploring Ecology on Two Continents
Jason Luscier’s workday begins early – around 4:30 a.m. He is up with the birds – literally. Luscier regularly traverses the City of Syracuse as the sun is beginning to rise, exploring the parks, commercial regions and residential neighborhoods, his eyes and ears sharply attuned to the avian life around him. These are among the most precious hours of his day – when the activity of his subjects is at its peak.
An assistant professor of biological sciences at Le Moyne, Luscier is studying the ways in which different urban habitats impact the distribution of birds. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 55 percent of the world’s population lives in an urban area, up from 34 percent in 1960. WHO officials anticipate that global urbanization will grow by 1.84 percent annually through 2020. Luscier is investigating how wildlife is coping with this trend and the challenges it poses. His long-term aim is for his work to help shape wildlife conservation plans.
“With increased urbanization, cities will need to begin – or continue – including comprehensive wildlife management schemes, for example for maintaining wildlife nuisance problems or increasing biodiversity,” he says. “My hope is to be able to provide recommendations regarding bird diversity hotspots within cities and adequate habitat types for maintaining diversity and abundance.”
Luscier has conducted this work on two continents. He recently spent two months as a visiting scientist at University College Cork on the southwest coast of Ireland, where he studied how bird diversity and abundance varies in that region. As he did in the U.S., Luscier spent his mornings in the field and his afternoons entering data, searching and reading through literature, and interacting with other biologists. His work in Ireland aligned perfectly with the research he is leading at Le Moyne, where his students are studying responses of wildlife populations and communities to varying forms of urbanization. He is replicating the survey he implemented in Cork in Syracuse so that he may compare the two areas. The two cities are similar in size and the breeding season for birds in Cork is similar to that of those in Syracuse. Comparisons between them will be useful in better understanding the effects of urbanization on wildlife on a global scale, Luscier says. He has already found that his experience abroad has “immensely enhanced his understanding of urban ecology” and provided him with incredible exposure to examples to draw upon in the courses he teaches at Le Moyne.
For tomorrow’s leaders, understanding ecology also means being aware of the socioeconomic factors, cultural forces and commercial activities, as well as urban landscaping and planning, that impact it. To that end, Luscier wants to instill in his students a broader understanding of the whole urban ecosystem – as it is impacted by biological and nonbiological factors – in order to inform future sustainability. “To me this is perfectly in line with the Jesuit mission – understanding ‘the whole person’ requires an appreciation of all aspects of one’s surroundings,” he says. His own professional life was informed by an early passion for wildlife. As an undergraduate student, Luscier took part in a travel ecology course to the Everglades, which, as he says, “is known for incredible bird diversity and massive numbers of large and brightly colored birds.”
“Seeing the natural beauty of the Everglades and its wildlife and understanding the major environmental problems that incredible eco-region is faced with deeply, deeply inspired me to devote my career to such a cause,” he says. “Over the past several years, I’ve had the privilege to teach my own version of a travel ecology course to the Everglades, and I hope to offer such a class here at Le Moyne in the near future … It feels pretty incredible to have my inspiration come full circle in such a way.”