Project 2. Assessment of atmospheric pollution in urban habitats by bio-monitors: spider webs, tree barks, lichens, and mosses (S. Ramaswami, Computer Science & A.L. González, Biology)

Background. Atmospheric pollution is a pervasive and severe problem in cities around the world (Chan & Yao 2008, Parrish et al. 2011). A large number of substances including greenhouse gases, organic dust, and particulate matter are emitted by human sources (Parrish et al. 2011). Monitoring of pollutants particles is often done with biological organisms such as lichens, mosses, tree bark, and more recently, spider webs, because of bio-monitor’s low cost and relatively easy sampling (Cervantes et al. 2008). Spider webs may track air pollution when lichens and mosses are missing (Xiao-Li et al. 2006, Rybak et al. 2012). Moreover, lichens and mosses are slow-growing long-lived organisms, while spiders can rebuild their webs on a daily basis or maintain their webs for weeks/months (Prestwich 1977, Blackledge et al. 2011). These differences in pollutant accumulation allow us to track pollution at different scales.

Research. Students will use different organisms useful to track bio-monitors from short to longer temporal scales. The REU student will study: (1) the type of organisms more useful to monitor atmospheric pollution (i.e., metals) in urban/residential habitats along different temporal scales; (2) the usefulness of spiders with different web-building behavior as bio-monitors of atmospheric pollution. The project will use survey samplings of spider webs, tree barks, mosses, and lichens in the city and residential areas of Philadelphia and Camden. The student will also work on chemical assays to explore the use of different bio-monitors of metal pollution.

Student activities. The RUE student will be trained for fieldwork that includes experimental design and sampling collection, observing and measuring spider webs, collecting lichens, mosses, bark, and spider webs, processing and identifying specimens in the lab. The student will also learn biogeochemical methods relevant to the project (i.e., chemical analyses in organic samples) and will also gain experience with GPS navigation, dissecting scopes, and data collection and management.