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UW Student Will Use NSF Fellowship to Research Wind Turbine Effects on Insects

April 28, 2015
woman sitting at desk with computer
Delina Dority, a UW senior from Casper majoring in biology, is the recent recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Dority, who will pursue her master’s degree in zoology at UW this fall, will begin research on what effects wind turbines have on insects. (UW Photo)

A University of Wyoming student for the next three years will study insect pollinators, primarily the state’s 700-800 bee species, and the potential effects wind turbines may have on them.

Delina Dority, a UW senior majoring in biology, received a 2015-16 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship that will cover her tuition and fees, and provide her a stipend, for three years to pursue her master’s degree in zoology at UW -- and allow her to conduct research that eventually may assist the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in managing wind farms in the state.

“I’m really interested in insects in general,” says Dority, of Casper. “Pollinators are really important to ecosystems.”

For the research, two wind farms and two control sites with similar terrain to where wind farms are built will be selected as study sites in southeastern Wyoming. Currently, 80 percent of birds killed by wind turbines are passerines, or those birds that feed on insects, says Lusha Tronstad, an invertebrate zoologist with the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNDD) at UW and Dority’s co-adviser. These passerines include blue jays, crows, larks, sparrows, swallows, ravens, warblers and wrens, Tronstad says.

Dority and Tronstad hypothesize that bees don’t fly high enough to be killed by wind turbines. However, they do see the effects of birds being killed by wind turbines tapering down through the food web.

“If birds are dying (by striking wind turbines) and there are fewer birds at wind farm sites, we think we might have more insects at wind farm sites,” Tronstad surmises. “We will investigate how wind farms affect the food web, and how pollinators might be affected.”

“If there are more pollinators present near wind farms, then that might be an indicator of increased plant fitness,” Dority says.

Dority developed the Fellowship proposal with Tronstad and Michael Dillon, a UW assistant professor in the Department of Zoology and Physiology, who is Dority’s faculty adviser. Dority says she will begin her research this summer by collecting preliminary data and working with BLM officials.

“The BLM manages and permits wind farms in the state, and information collected from this research will help the organization make future decisions on permitting and design of wind farms,” Dority says. “I feel like this research would help the BLM make good decisions.”

Dority received her associate of science degree from Casper College (CC) and will graduate this May from UW with her bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in entomology.

For an undergraduate, Dority has extensive experience. She has worked with Wyoming INBRE, conducting research on intestinal parasites (coccidian) in small mammals. She was selected as a Research Experience for Undergraduates participant and traveled to Ecuador with Scott Shaw, a UW professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, and Will Robinson, a biology instructor at Casper College, to conduct behavioral research on a newly described genus of parasitic wasp.

Last summer, Dority conducted research on the feeding preferences of yellow-bellied sapsuckers at the University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston, Mich. Most recently, Dority has been supported by an INBRE Transition Scholarship and is working with Tronstad and the WYNDD on a project investigating the effects of mosquito control on invertebrates in Laramie’s Spring Creek.

On her chances of garnering one of the NSF Fellowships, Dority says, “I got such good direction from my mentors that I thought I had a really strong application. I didn’t think I would get it because it is such a competitive fellowship. But, I was so surprised and excited when I did.”

Last year, approximately 10 percent of 12,000 students who applied for this particular grant were successful, Dority says.

“This is pretty rare. We are very proud of Delina,” Tronstad says.

“It (fellowship) is different in that it funds me specifically,” Dority says. “It’s funding me as a developing scientist.”

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