March 26, 2007
Millikin University senior Mallory Neese of New Canton hopes the data from her research project can provide important insights to prevent injuries to raptors, and provide data that supports the notion that wildlife rehabilitation centers serve as early warning detection systems for environmental change.
In 2006, Neese gained an appreciation for the work done by the Illinois Raptor Center while she worked there as an intern. The center is non-profit wildlife and environmental education center located near Decatur. While interning, Neese worked in all of the center’s programs including their wildlife hospital. When examining the center’s admission data, Neese noticed a trend involving Cooper’s Hawk injuries from window collisions. The information grabbed Neese’s attention due to the work she had done with Dr. David Horn, Millikin Assistant Professor of Biology, on his Project Prevent Collision study. After consulting with Horn and the center’s director Jane Seitz and Jacques Nuzzo, the group realized that valuable insight might be gained from analysis of the center’s data. The center had collected the data for more than 10 years, but hadn’t analyzed the information.
Earlier this year, Neese was approved for a Millikin Undergraduate Research Fellowship and began examining the data on over 1,000 raptors that had been admitted to the center in the last 12 years. Neese’s goal was to provide the Illinois Raptor Center with better-organized and more useful information. She wanted to repay the center for the opportunities they provided her during her internship. Neese also hoped her work would encourage other Millikin students to intern or volunteer at the center.
In her analysis, Neese examined population trends and compared the number of admissions to the center with environmental factors. For example, Neese found that at the height of the West Nile virus outbreak in 2002 the admission rate to the Illinois Raptor Center was very high since raptors are very susceptible to West Nile. In 2003, after WNV had spread further west, the center had one of its lowest years for admittance as a result of WNV’s negative impact on regional raptor populations. "The decline in raptor admissions to the Illinois Raptor Center after 2002 demonstrates the detrimental effect WNV had on central Illinois raptor populations. The fact that raptor admissions went down also illustrates how important wildlife rehabilitation centers are in serving as an early warning signal for environmental change," said Horn.
Neese examined data on causes of injury to the raptors hoping to find if there were specific raptors displaying specific causes of injury. Neese hoped her analysis would help provide some solutions to help prevent raptor injuries. Neese and Horn state that it is important to understand causes of raptor injury and death because raptors are at the top of the predatory food chain, and changes in the raptor population impact the rest of the food chain.
Neese’s analysis found that Great horned Owls and Barred Owls made up 61% of the birds treated at the center for injuries from collisions with vehicles. The owls only fly two to five meters off the ground to look for their prey in tall grass. Thus, Neese and Horn suggest that changes in roadside management along highways that take into account the foraging behavior of owls may decrease the number of injuries to owls from vehicle collisions.
"The Illinois Raptor Center is very excited about Mallory's project and we thank her for giving us the opportunity to look at our many years in raptor rehabilitation through one panoramic view. It is encouraging to us that Mallory’s work with our records can give support to finding ways to avoid the types of injuries and deaths in raptors that the Illinois Raptor Center witnesses year after year" says Seitz, Executive Director of the center.
Neese will present her research project for her senior biology presentation on March 30 at 3 p.m. in Room 001 of Millikin’s Leighty-Tabor Science Center. She is also preparing to present her work at the Illinois State Academy of Science Conference in April, and entering the final stages of preparing a research paper on the project for submission to an ornithological journal. The paper is being co-written by Neese, Seitz, Nuzzo, and Horn.
Neese is planning to attend veterinary school at the University of Illinois in the fall. She believes the undergraduate research opportunities she experienced at Millikin were keys to her being accepted into the program. "I think my research gave me an advantage over other scientists because most students don’t take advantage of opportunities like these." Neese added that she also appreciated the close relationship with faculty found at Millikin. For more information on the Illinois Raptor Center visit their website at www.illinoisraptorcenter.org