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November 13, 2019

Research in Chile, Sharing Knowledge on Long Island

by Ela Schwartz

Carolyn Bauer, PhD, assistant professor of biology, specializes in research on the degu.
Photo credit: Chuong Le

Carolyn Bauer, PhD, assistant professor of biology, is taking her students both far and near. As a researcher, she has been awarded $136,611 of a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Office of International Science and Engineering to bring her Adelphi students to Chile. Closer to home, she and her students have volunteered at the Long Island Children’s Museum to teach the youngest budding scientists about animals.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Degu

Dr. Bauer specializes in studying Octodon degus, a small rodent found only in Chile.

Degus are diurnal, social rodents, which makes them good candidates for studying human behavior. “Females will share the same burrow system,” Dr. Bauer explained. “They’ll practice communal care by taking care of each other’s pups. I am interested in whether having multiple mothers might help pups develop.”

For example, if a degu mother experiences stress, she might produce less milk or give less affection to her offspring. Researchers like Dr. Bauer are interested in seeing if other mothers step in to help, the way human mothers will step in to provide care to children of friends and family members.

Dr. Bauer shares the grant with co-primary investigator Loren Hayes, PhD, of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The grant will enable more than 15 undergraduate and graduate students from Adelphi and other institutions to travel to Chile, where they will collaborate with researchers from four academic institutions. The grant will support three research expeditions: one each in summer 2020, 2021 and 2022. In addition to the research component, the program will promote international collaboration, STEM education for middle and high school students and public outreach about the health benefits of community engagement in child care.

Dr. Bauer said she plans to bring one undergraduate student for three months and one graduate student for six months. The students can tailor their research topics to their particular interests and be co-authors on published works.

Arun Sam, a junior majoring in biology, will be one of the students accompanying Dr. Bauer to Chile. “The degu, to me, is a cute, gentle oversized gerbil that is very smart and social,” he said. “I love animals, and I love to learn, so I joined Professor Bauer’s research group so that I could work with this species to better understand how its physiology changes under different environmental conditions. “

In Dr. Bauer’s lab, Sam said, “We study degus to understand physiological and behavioral processes, such as how stress hormones impact maternal care and offspring play behaviors.” In Chile, he said he plans “to either investigate how far degus disperse after they reach adulthood, or I may take on a project examining how water availability impacts the development of degus during gestation. But I know for sure that I will do some behavioral measurements of the degus in the wild.”

Tusks, Horns, Antlers and Songbirds

This past spring, Dr. Bauer and students from her Regulatory Physiology class (Bio 360) presented interactive exhibits at the Long Island Children’s Museum (LICM). The Adelphi students taught visiting children about bear hibernation, caterpillar metamorphosis, thermoregulation, avian migration energetics and how animals use horns and other appendages for protection. Children made their own tusks, horns and antlers and made stuffed-toy songbirds fly as they learned how migrating songbirds stop to build fat stores en route to their destinations.

Dr. Bauer collaborated with Claire Flynn ’12, LICM STEM initiatives program director and a member of Adelphi’s 10 Under 10. Flynn was recently selected as a 2019 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and will be traveling to Antarctica this month with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions.


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