May 04, 2015
More than 40 Susquehanna University students recently returned from Spokane, Wash., from the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), where they presented research on topics ranging from biology to psychology.
This year's conference boasted Susquehanna's largest contingent of undergraduate researchers at nearly 50 students. Susquehanna has participated in NCUR for nearly 15 years, sending more than 300 students to present their work in varying fields, including biology, chemistry, ecology, earth and environmental science, history, math, neuroscience, philosophy, political science and psychology.
Among them this year was senior Matthew Schreiber, a biology major from Naples, Maine, who presented, "The Costs and Benefits of Sibling Cannibalism in the Wolf Spider Tigrosa Helluo: A Mother's Perspective."
His research focused on maladaptive behavior-namely cannibalism-among wolf spiders. It sought to explain if there was a genetic component to the behavior, and why some wolf spiders engage in such behavior while others do not.
He and his research partners began the project two years ago, first mating adult spiders and then raising their offspring. To determine which siblings were aggressive, they were put in pairs. If one cannibalized the other, it was labeled aggressive. If neither cannibalized each other, they were labeled nonaggressive. The aggressive spiders were found to be more likely to eat their siblings or a potential mate, as well as more likely to attack prey larger than themselves.
Despite what science would consider to be the drawbacks of overt aggression-increasing the risk of oneself being eaten and decreasing the likelihood of reproducing-Schreiber and his partners identified clear benefits.
"The aggressive spiders lived longer than their nonaggressive peers. They also grew faster and mated earlier," Schreiber said. "Which would explain why they persist from generation to generation."
The next step, he said, is to take additional spider pairings from the many spiderlings studied, mate them and study their offspring. Schreiber said their findings, which have been submitted to the journal Animal Behaviour for publication, could apply across species lines.
NCUR was among three opportunities Schreiber, who will attend law school at Ohio Northern University in the fall, has had to present his research, and the most prestigious.
"It was an honor to be accepted to present at the conference," he said, "and then to present alongside much larger schools. It was a great opportunity."
The Council on Undergraduate Research recently recognized Susquehanna as a leader in the field. Susquehanna is one of 57 universities and colleges nationwide named to the list, and one of more than 400 institutional members of the Council on Undergraduate Research.