The 36th annual VT Graduate Student Association Research Symposium was held virtually on March 25th, 2020. The GSARS is a unique opportunity for graduate and advanced undergraduate students to bring together ideas and research findings from different disciplines and showcase their scholarly pursuits and achievements.

The GSA Research Symposium and Exposition provides a platform for an animated exchange of ideas and invigorating interactions, and also provides for valuable networking between participants, faculties, departments, and research entities as well as corporate bodies, which could pave the way for interdisciplinary research discussion and future collaboration.

This year, three IGC fellows won awards for their presentations! Congratulations, Ernie, Chloe, and Sarah!

Ernie Osburn

1st place

15 minute oral presentation Myths and Mysteries Unravelled category

“Forest disturbance has long-term effects on soil bacterial and fungal communities in Appalachian ecosystems”

Ernie Osburn is a graduate student in Biological Sciences working with Dr. Jeb Barrett. He is studying the impacts of Rhododendron removals on soil microbial communities and nitrogen cycling in Appalachian forests. For this presentation, he used DNA sequencing to investigate soil microbial communities in forests that had experienced a range of different disturbances (e.g., logging, conversion to agriculture) several decades previously. He found some consistent differences in microbial taxa between disturbed and undisturbed forests, including higher bacterial diversity and higher abundance of mycorrhizal fungi in soils from disturbed sites. These findings indicate that human disturbance of forests has long-lasting effects on soil microbial communities with potential long-term implications for forest ecosystem functioning.

Sarah Kuchinsky

2nd place

15 minute oral presentation Myths and Mysteries Unravelled category

“Assessing susceptibility to Usutu virus in avian models”

Sarah Kuchinsky is a graduate student who combines wildlife research with traditional veterinary medicine by pursuing a veterinary science, PhD/DVM dual degree program.  Her research at Virginia Tech seeks to understand the pathogenesis, transmissibility, and disease dynamics of Usutu Virus (USUV). For her presentation, she discussed her investigation on the susceptibility of domestic and wild avian species to USUV, in order to determine an appropriate model to study this virus. She found that cells derived from American robin, house sparrow, and song sparrow were susceptible to multiple USUV strains, while cells derived from American crow were not. She also did experimental inoculations of USUV in 2-day-old chickens and wild caught house sparrows. She found that both the 2-day-old chickens and house sparrows developed viremia, suggesting that these bird models can serve as appropriate animal models to further evaluate USUV pathogenesis and transmission.

Chloe Moore

3rd place

Flash talk - Myths and Mysteries Unravelled category

“Does commonness confer connectivity? A genomics case study of a backyard frog”

Chloe Moore is a graduate student in Biological Sciences working with Dr. Meryl Mims. She is interested in studying the connections between species traits, population genetics, and landscapes, especially in areas with high levels of anthropogenic land-use. For this presentation, she studied the common “backyard” amphibian, the spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer). Despite the species’ commonness throughout the eastern United States, little is known about its ability to survive, or even maybe thrive, in heavily-modified environments. She presented her research on assessing drivers of the spring peeper’s persistence in modified landscapes by investigating the relationship between environmental differentiation, i.e. modified versus unmodified habitats, and genetic variation and connectivity