The Ithacan recently posted an article and video on research projects by several Ithaca College biology students. One of them, Danielle Bucior, is tracking heavy metals—like titanium, lead and cadmium—in the soil in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Another, Puerto Rican student Adriana Morales, is researching genetic diversity and invasive species. [Many thanks to Robert Rabin for bringing this item to our attention.] Here are excerpts:
The crystal-clear water and white-sand beaches of the remote island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, are as postcard-worthy as any Caribbean destination. However, the flora that grows on the island may tell a different story: The United States Navy used Vieques as a bombing range from 1943 until 2003, testing landmines, guns and other artillery, affecting the ecosystems of the area. An Ithaca College student is conducting a study to see what effects this bombing has had on the area.
Junior Danielle Bucior is a biology major conducting research about the contaminants the bombing left in the soil in Vieques. She traveled to Vieques in January to collect samples of the Scaevola taccada plant, a leafy green species that grows around the island, and is now testing them to check for heavy metals. [. . .] Bucior said the military began cleaning up the island in 2006 in an effort to make it livable for humans. Though the island is working on opening public beaches and allowing people to swim, Bucior said she is still finding contaminants in the soil. “What I’m finding is that there are still a lot of heavy metals like titanium, lead and cadmium — things that shouldn’t be in the soil that are still there,” she said.
She said that as these plants take up the toxins, the animals that eat the plants consume the toxins, which progress up the food chain, eventually contributing to human consumption of toxins. Heavy metals like lead can cause health issues like cancer, blood problems and heart issues.
Biology professor Susan Swensen Witherup is Bucior’s research mentor. Witherup has a doctorate in plant physiology and genetics, and is working on the genetic mapping of the Scaevola plant. Bucior said Witherup invited her to work in her lab when she was a sophomore. The work originally involved research on pollination between native and invasive species in Vieques, but Bucior said she later enrolled in Witherup’s Biology of Oceanic Islands course that traveled to Vieques last year.
Witherup said she had collected plants from different geographic locations with the purpose of conducting analyses to compare genetic variances among plant populations. However, with these samples in hand, she said, she saw an opportunity to test for toxins with the knowledge of the island’s military history.
[. . .] Senior Adriana Morales is from Puerto Rico and works in the lab with Bucior on a separate project regarding the Scaevola plant’s genetic diversity. Morales’ project is similar to Bucior’s in that it involves the concept of conservation and utilizes the same type of plant. However, Morales’ work includes analyzing and researching to conserve the native species, Scaevola plumieri, and comparing it to the invasive species Scaevola taccada that was introduced by humans for the sake of tourism.
[. . .] Genetic diversity, she said, is essential for a healthy ecosystem. Morales said her work may also relate to Bucior’s due to the existence of heavy metals in the plants leading to genetic differentiation. [. . .]
For full article, see https://theithacan.org/news/student-researches-effect-of-bombing-range-on-remote-island/