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Previous Recipients of the Rio Mesa Undergraduate Fellowship

Brent Young, Biology (2012)

In birds, acoustic communication plays a major role in territory defense and mate attraction. The ability to reach conspecifics with song is therefore critical for effective communication, and song amplitude is an important feature for achieving this. Recent research has focused on the impact of man-made environmental noise on vocal communication in birds, and how singing behavior changes with background noise. For example, in order to improve signal-to-noise ratio, birds reflexively sing more loudly in high background noise (Lombard effect), and it has also been proposed that shifts to higher frequency songs are used as a mechanism to avoid masking by background noise. However, a different aspect of this question has been largely ignored. To what degree can birds improve communication by selecting acoustically favorable song perches? To address this gap, I conducted an experiment to test whether the acoustic properties of a perch can influence the decision of a bird to sing there. I presented male black-throated sparrows (Amphispiza bilineata) with a choice of two identical song perches (placed 15’ apart in a male’s territory). One of the perches was equipped with a microphone and amplifier to boost the amplitude of songs delivered from this perch. The location of the microphone and speaker was switched randomly between the two posts during the trials. To induce singing behavior and attract the territorial male, black-throated sparrow song was played back in the middle of the two perch sites. When a male sang at both perches they delivered on average 56 ( 67) more songs from the perch with amplification. This difference is statistically significant (paired t-test; p=0.0292, n=10, paired recordings from 4 birds). Preference for the amplified perch strongly suggests that male black-throated sparrows do take into consideration how loud their song sounds to them when they choose a song perch. This preliminary data provides the first experimental evidence to support this hypothesis, but additional field work is necessary to increase the sample size.

Emily Jencso, Biology(2012)

(Summary Coming Soon)

Luke Williams, Music (2012)

Desert Gestalt is a collection of experimental songs, and an attempt to mimic (loosely and conceptually) the eons of geologic, hydrologic, and biospheric mark-making that sculpt the tenuous topography and ecology of a place. In that spirit, these songs have been cut, stacked, stretched, and collaged together from a body of sound that I gathered and plucked during my stay at the field station. Though I brought instruments with me, I wanted to give myself permission to treat my mandolin and accordion playing with the same simultaneous reverence and irreverence with which I approached bird calls, crickets, and the hiss of the river. I used my recordings as building blocks and conceptual springs, which separated the sound-making process from the songwriting process, which felt both foreign and liberating. A particularly rhythmic string of cricket chirps inspired the construction of a percussive cricket orchestra. One day’s accordion improvisation stacked on top of another day’s echoing banjo resulted in a rhythmic and harmonic serendipity that I never would have written on purpose. The result is sometimes cacophonous and erratic, like a flash flood or earthquake, and sometimes calm, like the humming peace between such events. Website

Michael Handley, Art & Art History (2011)

My time spent at Rio Mesa will be focused on going out into the land to explore and grow from within the land, not to conquer, but to pass through it with silence and grace, taking in its language and form through drawings and photography, video and audio diaries. Specifically, I will create a series of nighttime audio recordings; drawings of land, plants, rocks and animals and photographs of residual markings of people, storms and other weather related phenomena.

Andrew Roth, Art & Art History (2011)

Plein-air painting at Bonderman Field Station at Rio Mesa in three seasons. This project will explore and document changes in the landscape and its light with the shifting of the seasons and will help me develop my skills as a painter. During each visit, I will paint for two 3-4 hours painting sessions daily.

Jessica Gilmore/Joshua Weber, Architecture (2011).Final Report

This research projected evaluated the potential of material deconstruction and reuse in architecture. The case study was a 1970's barn on the northeast side of Rio Mesa.

Isaac Hart, Anthropology (2010).

At the time of European contact, geophytes were an important component of native diets throughout western North America. Ongoing research conducted under James O'Connell at the University of Utah has begun to quantify the economic costs and benefits of geophyte exploitation. Results show that some ethnographically important taxa yielded lower than expected overall caloric return rates. Stands of traditionally important geophytes have been identified throughout the Utah Bottoms and surrounding canyons. The first phase of this line of research at Utah Bottoms, presented here, involved locating patches and measuring densities of economically important geophyte taxa in order to identify suitable locations for experimental patch exploitation, as well as patch modification exercises in the future aimed at measuring human influences on patch densities (e.g., irrigating, burning, tilling).

Jennifer Buchi, Anthropology, Creative Writing, Book Making (2010).

My artists' book explored the ideas of shape and suspension at Rio Mesa, a place I found fascinating due to both its physical and human geography. The history and archeology of the ranch give me a sense that though the place itself fluctuates-through drought and flood, through occupation and absence, through seasons-the experience of people living there remains constant, suspended both in time and location.

Matthew Mau, Biology, Rio Mesa Insect Collection (2009).Final Report

My project initiated an insect collection for the University of Utah's new field station. I collected insects with pan traps, malaise traps and pitfall traps five times between April and August 2009. The insects collected will help create a long-term database for diversity and abundance of arthropods, as well as provide teaching collections for instructors.

Last Updated: 7/21/22