The Joshua A. Nickerson Conservation Fellowship
The Joshua A. Nickerson Conservation Fellowship, offered in partnership by Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission, Atlantic Research & Learning Center, and Friends of the Cape Cod National Seashore, has provided support to qualified individuals since 1992. At least one fellowship is awarded each year to individuals whose work will contribute to our knowledge of natural and cultural resources within Cape Cod National Seashore, and of the relationships of these resources to the local communities in which they are found.
Proposals may be submitted for research in the broad areas of the natural and social sciences. Topics of interest include terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem processes, biotic and abiotic ecosystem components, cultural and natural resource management, and the political and social implications of resource protection and management.
The amount of the fellowship varies from year to year. Housing may also be available to fellowship recipients while research is being conducted in the park. Laboratory equipment and field equipment may be available as well.
2021 Nickerson Fellowship Recipient
Christine Hudak- Detecting Gray Seal Robustness Using Environmental (e)DNA analysisin the southern Gulf of Maine One of the major fundamental resources and values of the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS) includes the wildlife within the CCNS borders. The recovering coastal population of gray seals has garnered growing attention in recent years due to their rapid growth in abundance and increasing interactions with humans. A clear understanding of population structure in this system is necessary for protected species management within the CCNS and beyond, and may facilitate prediction of potential disease transmission among seals. Environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis is a tool with promising potential for the conservation of marine animals. This approach is built on the premise that organisms slough cells containing DNA into the water they inhabit and we can extract the DNA from a water sample without ever handling (or even seeing) the organism. While eDNA approaches have been primarily used to detect species presence, there is additional potential to obtain the diversity of populations in a non-invasive and cost efficient manner. To refine the protocols we developed to characterize gray seal eDNA in coastal water samples, we will collect seal eDNA via water samples taken at gray seal haulout sites within the CCNS, filter the samples, and extract and analyze the eDNA in collaboration with CCS seal biologist Lisa Sette and Dr. Kristina Cammen of the School of Marine Sciences in the University of Maine. We will use molecular methods to quantify the amount of gray seal DNA in all water samples (qPCR) and characterize genetic diversity in samples that contain DNA from multiple individuals. While we have had preliminary success detecting eDNA immediately offshore from seal haulout sites, this study will test our ability to detect seal DNA in water samples collected in varying distances to the haulout sites and will also provide us with a preliminary assessment of the genetic diversity in each haulout.
Past Recipients & Final Reports
2020 – Kathrine Sperry - Assessing the impact of salt marsh restoration techniques on Spartina alterniflora genetic variation
2020 – Stephen Tomasetti - From New York to Cape Cod: assessing the differential vulnerability of the Atlantic bay scallop to low-oxygen and high-temperature stress
2017 - Alia Al-Haf, Ph. D. - Boston University - Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Seagrass Meadows over a Nutrient Gradient in the Cape Cod National Seashore.
2016 - Owen C. Nichols - Center for Coastal Studies - Shellfish and horseshoe crab larval flux at the East Harbor tidal restoration site.
Last updated: July 8, 2021