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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Old Dominion Ph.D. Student Earns Conservation Grant From British Group

Spencer Schubert, a doctoral student in biology at Old Dominion University, has received funding from the Rufford Foundation to study how seed dispersal by birds can promote forest restoration in the Dominican Republic.

The Rufford Foundation is a British non-profit that supports nature conservation projects throughout the developing world.

Schubert, a first-year Ph.D. student of Eric Walters, assistant professor in Old Dominion's Department of Biological Sciences, received $5,400 to continue his analysis of how colonies of the Hispaniolan woodpecker and the palmchat might restore deforested landscapes.

Those birds nest in royal palm trees, which are protected in the Dominican Republic. The Rufford Foundation reports that Dominican and Haitian forests have dramatically shrunk through poorly regulated timber harvest and other clearing behavior.

Native bird populations have become restricted to higher-elevation forests in protected areas, which reduces their seed dispersal to forest ecosystems. But the Hispaniolan woodpecker and the palmchat are resilient to forest fragmentation and are abundant in rural agricultural areas throughout the Dominican Republic.

"Very little is known about this phenomenon," Schubert said. "I suspect these two species could be very important tools for accelerating forest restoration in these landscapes in the future."

Schubert said his first goal is to use the grant to recruit Dominican biologists to his project and train them in field ecology.

Schubert's grant is for one year, after which he will be eligible to reapply for extended funding.

A summary of Schubert's work can be found at the Rufford Foundation's website.

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