Here I am, Ready to Work

Hello world,


I’m a rising senior studying biology and math here at the College. And what better way is there to integrate math and biology than to try to make a mathematical model of some biological phenomenon?

A few months ago, I my advisor (Professor Drew Lamar, Biology) met with another Biology professor, John Swaddle, to talk about some of his research with birds in mercury contaminated habitats in the Shenandoah Valley. As it turns out, some bird populations are slowly moving towards adapting to mercury, as natural selection favors individuals that can survive in contaminated environments. However, like with most things in the study of evolution, there is a trade off here: those birds that can survive in mercury adapted sites are less fit than “wild type” birds living in normal environments. As birds immigrate into and disperse from the Shenandoah, these mercury-adapted birds will tend to infiltrate and breed with birds in other populations, potentially decreasing overall fitness.

So the question is: how serious of a threat do bird populations outside contaminated areas face from interbreeding with adapted birds from within contaminated sites? This can be modeled with math; already Professor Lamar and I have studied a matrix model introduced by statistician MG Bulmer to model the coexistence of multiple traits in different environs. We are also currently running very simple simulations in MATLAB (a math-based symbolic programming language) to allow us to examine the problem under various conditions (different migration rates, selection pressures, population sizes, etc). Later this week I will visit Professor Dan Cristol (of, you guessed it, Biology) to talk with him about data he has collected for various bird populations in the Shenandoah.

I will try to work with existing data on bird fitnesses, population sizes, migration patterns as well as habitat flows and sizes to assess which bird species, if any, face significant decreases in fitness due to migration loads from the Shenandoah.

More to come, etc etc etc