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! 



URG Recipient



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.


URG Recipient - Quan-Dong

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.


URG Recipient - Nathan-Ferguson

Assessment of microplastic contaminants in Faxonius cristavarius across various levels of habitat degradation

Nathan Ferguson, Fish and Wildlife Conservation 

Working with Drs. Austin Gray and Bryan Brown

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.


URG Recipient - Cade-Karminski

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.


URG Recipient - Lee-Matthew

Impact of increased temperature on the pollination of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Lee Matthew, Biological Sciences

Working with Dr. Susan Whitehead and IGC Fellow Melissa Burt

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.


URG Recipient - Grace-McCarthy

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.


URG Recipient - Peter-Schiff

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.

Katie Smith

URG Recipient Katie Smith

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.


URG Recipient Melanie-Turner

Vector competency for La Crosse virus of invasive container-breeding mosquitoes

Melanie Turner, Biological Sciences

Working with Dr. Gillian Eastwood

Mosquitoes are a critical insect in the transmission of vector-borne pathogens. Populations of invasive mosquito species including Aedes albopictus are expanding their distributions, associated with warming climates at range limits. La Crosse virus (LACV) is a leading mosquito-borne virus in the USA, causing pediatric encephalitis.
This project willl study the ability of mosquitoes to vector LAVC. Endemic in Appalachia, LACV uses Aedes triseriatus as a native vector in an enzootic cycle with Sciuridae hosts. However, the introduction of A. albopictus and A. japonicus in the region warrants investigation of their role in LACV transmission. Results should indicate the ability of LACV transmission in invasive mosquitoes and how this might vary with climate change or differing vector seasonality.


URG Recipient Charlotte-Tury

Assessing Spatial and Temporal Activity of Native and Invasive Arizona Amphibians through Bioacoustic Remote Sensing Technology

Charlotte Tury, Biological Sciences

Working with Dr. Meryl Mims and IGC Fellow Grace O'Malley

This project studies two frog species in Southeastern Arizona. Arizona treefrogs (Hyla wrightorum) are native to this region and are threatened by the invasive American bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeainus). This research project will use acoustic recordings to remotely assess the spatial and temporal activity of Arizona treefrog and American bullfrogs to gain insight on how to best improve bullfrog removal efforts.
The Global Change Center at Virginia Tech, with support from the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, is proud to sponsor undergraduate students and their research projects that align with our mission for advancing collaborative, interdisciplinary approaches to address critical global changes impacting the environment and society. Supported projects address basic and/or applied aspects of global change science, engineering, social science and the humanities and are sponsored by a GCC Faculty mentor.