GCC Undergraduate Research Grant Awardees Announced
October 18, 2022
This year the Global Change Center continued to support the research efforts of our undergraduate students through our Undergraduate Research Grant program. From studying invasive species, vector-borne pathogens, microplastic contamination, urban youth resilence, and more – the 2022 recipients are conducting impressive work with GCC faculty. This year’s research grants, totaling ~$8,000 in funds, support ten research projects led by eleven outstanding undergraduate students spanning five undergraduate majors.
Congratulations to the following students awarded this year’s GCC undergraduate research grants!
Cascading effects of invasive crayfish on the ectosymbionts of native crayfish across a divided stream.
Brice Crum and Grace Swift, Biological Sciences
Working with Dr. Bryan Brown
The goal of this project is to determine whether invasive crayfish are affecting the populations of symbiotic branchiobdellida worms. We hypothesize that invasive crayfish will have negative effects on diversity and abundance of the symbiont populations due to the suboptimal host competence of invasive crayfish. Research will be conducted in Giles County, that has a stream uniquely suited to carrying out this reasearch, and will enable us to compare invaded and non-invaded sites while avoiding potentially confounding variables like water chemistry and differing species pools.
Comparing Acoustic and Mist Netting Data in Colombia
Quan Dong, Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Working with Dr. Luis Escobar
This project aims to use data collected in June-July of 2022 to compare the effectiveness of acoustic monitoring against mist netting survey methods. Acoustic data to capture species vocalizations were recorded in Colombia across four sites along the elevational gradient of the Andes mountains. The ultrasonic monitoring survey was conducted at each site and the recorded calls need to be analyzed and interpreted to identify individuals to a genus level. Mist netting surveys were also conducted by another research team and all caught individuals were recorded, measured, and identified to a species level. I will analyze against the mist netting data from our Colombian partners. This will allow for their data, expertise, and insight to be incorporated into my project and determine similarities between acoustic and mist net captures.
As research on microplastics has increased over the past two decades, there is a lack of peer-reviewed research on microplastic retention within freshwater organisms aside from mussels. To truly understand retention rates, it is crucial to examine the base of the food chain.
The aim of this reserach project is to better understand the potential of environmental microplastic bioaccumulation within crayfish across various habitat degradations throughout Montgomery County, VA. Understanding a baseline of microplastic abundance and retention in crayfish could provide insights into potential bioaccumulation to upper trophic levels. Additionally, habitat degradation gradients provide potential analysis of areas of greatest concern for microplastic biomagnification.
Developmental analysis of Cambarus appalachiensis under chronic microplastic exposure
Cade Karminski, Biological Sciences
Working with Dr. Bryan Brown
This study will be the first to assess the effects of chronic microplastic exposure on crayfish throughout their early developmental stages. As ecosystem engineers and keystone species, healthy crayfish populations stabilize the biodiversity in freshwater streams. With the rapid increase in plastic production over the past few decades, it is important to understand the effects that introduced plastics have on our ecosystem. This study seeks to assess the potential dangers microplastics present to this keystone species and will help us preserve the biodiversity found in freshwater ecosystems.
Current climate change models predict temperatures to increase in the Appalachian region of southwest Virginia. Warmer temperatures could result in phenological mismatches between plants and their pollinators, resulting in increased rates of self-pollination and a decrease in genetic diversity.
My project will aim to identify how this climate shift may impact the flowering phenology and pollination of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), one of the earliest flowering plants in the region and will measure the effects of increased temperature and precipitation on the rates of out-crossing and self-pollination in bloodroot.
Mass Transport Through a Beaver Dam Analog
Grace McCarthy, Chemical Engineering
Working with Dr. Cully Hession
This project will support an ongoing research effort at the StREAM Lab, analyzing how storm events affect the mass transfer of sediment, phosphorus, and nitrogen through a region of Stroubles Creek where a beaver dam analog (BDA) will be installed.
This project intends to compliment the BDA project with a storm-event monitoring component (or an overall mass balance aspect), which is crucial for tracking sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus as they flow through the dam during extremely important and impactful high-flow events. This research will broaden our understanding of how beaver dams (or BDAs) can be used to improve water quality in Stroubles Creek.
Dynamics of tick-borne co-infections
Peter Schiff, Entomology
Working with Dr. Gillian Eastwood
Powassan virus is an emerging, tick-borne pathogen which is expanding in distribution as burgeoning tick populations also shift in their distribution, potentially linked with climate and land-use changes. Powassan virus may be detected in human co-infection cases alongside other, infamous tick-borne pathogens including Borrelia burgdorferi (causative agent of Lyme disease) and Anaplasma phagocytophilum (causative agent of human granulocytic anaplasmosis).
This undergraduate research project will assist in the development and maintenance of Powassan virus and A. phagocytophilum-infected tick colonies, provide training with laboratory animals, as well as experience working in BSL-3 and ACL-3 containment facilities. The project aims to simulate transmission of tick-borne pathogens in the natural vector and host, to increase understanding of serious disease agent’s endemic in regions of the USA and known to be emerging in Virginia.
Understanding resilience through urban youth perspectives
Katie Smith, Public and International Affairs
Working with Dr. Theodore Lim
In urban planning literature, common definitions of “resilience” often prioritize a systems-level understanding of how communities prepare for and respond to disaster. We hypothesize that “resilience” that focuses on the psychological and emotional capacities of individuals and communities to deal with shocks and challenges will be more salient to youth and help them engage the concept of broader resilience.
From the youth Photovoice project, led by Dr Theo Lim, we seek to advance how we think about community engagement in urban resilience planning. We will compare how youth and city officials each conceptualize “resilience,” and identify intersections between their conceptualizations.
Vector competency for La Crosse virus of invasive container-breeding mosquitoes
Melanie Turner, Biological Sciences
Working with Dr. Gillian Eastwood