William and Mary Digest: Feb. 15

College has new native studies major

The College of William and Mary has a new minor dedicated to the study of Native Americans and their history. Anthropology professor Kathleen Bragdon was one of the several people who spearheaded the effort.

"Because it's such an interdisciplinary program, I could see students who are interested in American history generally being interested. Obviously, anthropology students would be interested from the point of view of regional ethnographic and archaeological research," she said. "But we also hope to attract people whose interest is more international, such as people who are interested in indigenous peoples throughout the world."

Creating the major was an extension of work that faculty members were already doing, according to another person who helped bring it into fruition on the campus.

"We found that there were many faculty who had been offering courses that had a native focus, said Danielle Moretti-Langholtz. "So it wasn't at all hard to bring these together into a nice curricular package."

Eelgrass at the center of water quality, researchers reveal

Research from the college's Virginia Institute of Marine Science says that as the amount of eelgrass in the Chesapeake Bay decreases, so too will the quality of the water. Eelgrass is absolutely essential to the ecosystem, and its loss is not a good sign, said lead scientist Jonathan Lefcheck.

"Not only have we lost a huge ecological resource, there have been real economic and recreational consequences for the bay area's nearly 20 million residents. Blue crab fisheries, for example, have probably lost a year or more of catch based on the amount of eelgrass we've already lost," he said. "For silver perch, it's 10-20 years. In all, we estimate the potential economic cost to citizens at $1-2 billion."

The reasons eelgrass is declining are two-fold, said professor Robert Orth.

"Our observations suggest eelgrass is responding to two main factors," Orth said. "Declining water clarity has gradually reduced eelgrass cover during the past two decades, primarily in deeper beds where lack of light already limits growth. In shallow beds, it's more that heat waves are stressing the plants, leading to the sharp drops we've seen in recent summers."

Student researchers and faculty members say the immediate effects of global warming need to be considered in future years to deal with issues impacting eelgrass.

"We propose that managers must increase their water quality targets at the local and regional levels to offset losses caused by global factors outside their immediate control," Orth said.

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