Professor, Biology Department, University of the Cumberlands

About 

SaraAsh with Cory Clark and Sipriano Canti

Dr. Sara Ash with Cory Clark and Sipriano Canti

Dr. Sara Ash earned a B.S. in Biology from Cumberland College (1993), an M.S. and Ph.D. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M University in 1995 and 2000, respectively. IN 2000 Sara was appointed to the faculty of Cumberland College (now, University of the Cumberlands) as Assistant Professor, promoted to Associate Professor in 2005 and promoted to Full Professor and received tenure in 2010. From 2005-2010 she served as Department Chair. Since her appointment, Sara has mentored a total of 10 undergraduate research projects at University of the Cumberlands. Topics included behavior of small mammals (Reithrodontomys humulis and Peromyscus leucopus), field techniques for collecting movement data on small mammals, effects of domestic cats on native wildlife in protected areas, inventories of reptiles and amphibians in protected areas, surface mine sites, and suburban areas.  During her service to University of the Cumberlands she has received 4 teaching awards: Student Government Honored Professor Award (2002 and 2008); Excellence in Teaching Award (2010); Faculty Excellence Award (2008). Since her appointment, Sara has received 4 Faculty Immersion Grants, competitive grants awarded to faculty to conduct research or complete additional training that will enhance scholarship and effectiveness in the classroom. She has used these grants to 1. develop a travel course in Tropical Ecology, 2. learn basic skills in Geographic Information Systems, 3. support preliminary research and development of a book about the Pine Mountain Legacy Project, the largest conservation effort in the state of Kentucky, and 4. support small mammal research at BFREE. Sara served as President of The Wildlife Society-Kentucky Chapter from 2013-2015 and is a current member of its student development committee. This committee seeks funding to support student research in wildlife at Kentucky universities and colleges. She is also an active board member of the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust and assists in educating the public regarding issues of biodiversity and conservation. Sara is also a member of the education committee of BFREE. Sara is also a member of the Ecological Society of America.

Research

Comparison of Small Mammal Communities in Cacao Agroforestry and Tropical Broadleaf Forest Habitats in Belize, Central America

BFREE’s education committee is charged with creating long-term educational and research projects and data sets for student groups visiting BFREE. Our hope is that we can identify questions that are principal to BFREE’s mission of conserving biodiversity of Belize and are amenable to the development of field activities and research for student groups. To this end, BFREE’s rustic cacao plantation surrounded by natural forests can serve as an ideal location for comparative studies. As part of BFREE’s goal to benefit local communities, BFREE staff started a small cacao plantation on the property to serve as a model for growing cacao under more natural conditions. By maintaining the canopy and some of the original forest structure, it is hypothesized that a rich, diverse fauna can be supported. However, this hypothesis needs empirical evaluation for small mammal communities.

To partially remedy this lack of knowledge, we conducted a pilot study in January and June 2015. The objectives of this study were to: 1. Initiate long-term monitoring of small mammal species on BFREE property, and 2. Compare the species richness and diversity of small mammals living in the BFREE’s cacao plantation and adjacent forest habitat, and 3. To identify research questions about the effects of habitat change on small mammal communities.

We established permanent trapping grids with 100 trap stations in the center of the cacao farm and in the forest approximately 0.5 km south. Figure 1 summarizes number of individuals caught in each habitat. We identified the small rice rats only to genus (Handleyomys spp.) because of difficulty in distinguishing them in the field. Other species caught included forest spiny pocket mouse (Heteromys desmarestianus), hispid cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus), Mexican mouse opossum (Marmosa mexicana), Coues’s rice rat (Oryzomys couesi) and big-eared climbing rat (Ototylomys phyllotis).

The preliminary results suggest that there are some important differences between small mammal communities living in the cacao plantation compared to the forest habitat. While we found equal numbers of species in the cacao compared to the forest, and identical species composition between the two habitats, the small mammal community in the forest is more diverse with the numbers of individuals more evenly distributed across its species. We also found some differences in probability of capture and distance moved between successive captures of some species in each habitat. In other words, the data suggest their behavior and small-scale movements differ between the habitats. These results are promising but should be evaluated with caution. Ecological studies require either large-scale or long-term data collection before discernable patterns emerge. Consequently, we need to repeat our methods during different seasons and over several years before drawing any conclusions.