SHIPPENSBURG - Benjamin Carlucci, of Williamsport, believes research is the fundamental cornerstone behind true learning. For the last few months, the white-tailed deer has been his research subject.
A senior biology secondary education major and honor student at Shippensburg University, Carlucci conducted a study on organismal biology, which studies the entire organism - in this case, the white-tailed deer.
Carlucci collected organs such as livers and hearts from fawns up to 6 months old near the Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg.
"Every year, they measure a wide array of biological indices (pieces of information) to better understand how healthy the local deer population is," Carlucci said.
Under a $520 grant from the university's Undergraduate Research Program, Carlucci began the research project, called "Evaluating the Health of Letterkenny Army Depot Deer through Organ Analysis."
"By accurately estimating deer health, appropriate game regulations can be enacted to reduce their population size and allow future forest regeneration attempts," Carlucci wrote in his research proposal.
The son of William Carlucci and Christine Carlucci, he has since finished his study and expects to graduate in May.
Carlucci worked in partnership with his adviser, Dr. Richard Stewart, and Craig Kindlin, Letterkenny's natural resource manager, and his staff.
Hunters who took game on Oct. 15, 22 and 29 at the depot were informed that any harvest was to be reported to officials there, so, if of age, the organs could be retrieved for the study.
"The organs were handed to me or I removed them personally after the fawn had passed away," Carlucci said. "They were safely stored and refrigerated and taken to the Shippensburg Vertebrate Zoology Lab. Then I would safely mass and evaluate all organs in a sterile environment."
He collected data such as the organs' body weights, the animals' chest girth (a measurement all the way around the body) and the net fat on the kidneys.
He worked 2 1/2 months studying the organs.
"If I had organs, I was working four to seven hours a day on just this project," he said. "When the organs were handled, I spent perhaps two to three hours a week researching mammalian physiology."
Carlucci measured the residual fatty tissue from each of the organs. The chest girth was measured to see the growth of the deer.
His was the second time this type of study was done. A graduate student started the project last year, Carlucci said, but Stewart said he believed it should be given a second run.
"A higher net mass for organs in addition to fattier kidneys would indicate healthier fawns. This would translate to young deer that have an increased survivability during the winter months," Carlucci said. "Therefore, my entire research pursuit was really a continuation of a graduate student's thesis. However, with his results, in addition to my own, I am better able to tell an accurate account of Letterkenny's local fawn population."
The study can allow appropriate game regulations be enacted to reduce the size of the deer population and allow for future forest regeneration attempts by accurately estimating deer health.
The study gave Carlucci a chance to get his hands dirty prior to graduate school. He said he was thankful for his adviser's direction.
"I strongly encourage all undergraduate scientists to 'get their hands dirty' with real research work," he said. "After all, adding to the greater conversation of scientific knowledge is what being a scientist is all about."
Findings from his study still are tentative. The project requires five years of strong sample sizes to make it truly accurate, he said.
"Overall, organ weight was higher and the deer were heavier than last year. My honest prediction is that Letterkenny is actively pursuing the best strategies to keep a healthy, natural stock of deer in the local population," he said. "But, frankly, my one year-to-year analysis was too prone to misunderstood variables to make an actual statement. My work must be repeated.
"I wanted an opportunity to study this branch of science actively in the field. Now that I have, I have a better appreciation for it. I would consider a graduate-level organismal class very seriously," he said.
Carlucci isn't a sportsmen himself but, after doing the study, he said he may become one someday. He has spent four summers working for the Boy Scouts of America and a was an island mate for National High Adventure Sea Base.
"At the very least, I respect the process of hunting enough to realize that it offers an important resource to towns and communities," Carlucci said.