Ecological Relations Subject of Study at Williams College

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Feb. 27, 2001 — The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $182,189 in research support to Kenneth Schmidt, a visiting assistant professor of biology at Williams College who studies the ecological relations between predators and their prey.

The NSF grant will allow Schmidt to pursue a project titled “Incidental Nest Predation in Songbirds: Using Behavioral Indicators to Determine Ecological Processes and Scales,” continuing research he has been conducting for the past three years at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.

Many people are familiar with stereotypical predator searching behavior, such as a lion stalking a zebra, however many instances of predatation arise from consequential encounters by opportunistic predators, as his title says, “incidental.”

“Because songbird nests are infrequently encountered by an individual predator, predation is largely an incidental consequence of unrelated factors that bring predators and prey together,” explains Schmidt.

With that in mind, Schmidt’s research consists of carefully monitoring populations of predators and their surrounding environments to see what factors influence the degree to which small mammals such as mice and chipmunks prey upon the eggs and chicks of nesting songbirds.

While the distribution and availability of food will undeniably play a role, Schmidt says, other factors may include a predator’s foraging (or hunting) efficiency and the ability to perceive the environment around them.

In carrying out experiments to measure different predators’ efficiency and perception, he hopes to find a predictable relation between these factors and the impact which predators have on songbird populations.

Schmidt received his B.S. and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago.