BY ALEJANDRA PEREZ
Dr. Douglas Wacker is a faculty member here at the University of Washington Bothell who lectures in topics around Animal behavior, endocrinology, and neuroscience in the STEM program. Through having the pleasure of interviewing him about the different types of research he is conducting with some of his students around crows, I got to understand through different types of lenses the research they are all doing. First, he said that there are about 10,000 to 15,000 crows that come to UWB and the North Creek Wetlands on a daily basis, that right there is huge. There are not that many places around the nation who have the opportunity to have a roosting site for crows right next door. Secondly, he stated that the 10,000-15,000 crows that come on a daily basis are definitely having an effect on the North Creek wetlands. First of, this is a natural effect, which does not mean it is neither good nor bad. Dr. Wacker compared the effect that the crows are having on the wetlands, is like what beavers do. They cause natural changes to ecosystems. Thus, one of the effects of crows might be the input of crows’ defecation that contains both seeds and nitrogen. In terms of nitrogen, while crow poop does not contain as much nitrogen, it is still not know what or how much effect the input of nitrogen from crows is having in North Creek. Another thing to consider is the nitrogen coming from other sources rather than just the crow poop, such as fertilizer runoff. So far, Dr. Wacker and his students have not found any evidence of effect of the excess nitrogen in the salmon that travel through the North Creek, but he said more specific studies are needed to have a clearer picture. He also said that nitrogen would most likely have an effect on the small plants that can either do really well with nitrogen or the ones who cannot do as well with lots of nitrogen. In terms of the seeds carried in the bird poop, Dr. Wacker stated that this could have an effect on the biodiversity of the plants in the wetlands. For example, he stated how the university really wants the wetlands to be a representation of the Pacific North West habitat. Therefore if crows are bringing seeds of invasive plants with them, then more invasive plants, such as the invasive Himalayan Blackberry, will start to grow in the wetlands. This wouldn’t be a natural problem, since the effect is being created naturally, but it could potentially be a problem for the university, in terms of the North Creek wetlands not being as original as what a Pacific North West environment should be.
Throughout the process of trying to figure out what types of effects the crows are having on the North Creek Wetlands, Dr. Wacker is currently doing hands-on research with five different students who are very interested in the topic. Through this process, he states that not only are the students researching about the crows, but they are also getting to learn how to do science and using their scientific method practices. It was in the winter of 2013, when Dr. Wacker first saw the 10,000-15,000 crows on campus and became really interested about the topic, so interested that he taught the BES 301 Science Methods and Practice class where students collected and analyzed data on the roost. Through this class, many of his students began to gain more interest in doing more research on the crows here at UWB and started to come up with questions and ideas. Dr. Wacker talked them into developing research projects and the students jumped into it. Overall, we see that not only research and interest around the work of crows is being done at UWB by different instructors, but also through the students’ interest. Dr. Wacker also stated, that this is a great opportunity for all students (not just for those interested in the environment) to have nature be presented to them at this urban site. Basically, we all need to appreciate the fact that we have crows so close to us through this roosting area at the North Creek Wetlands.