NSF Graduate Research Internship at the U.S. Geological Survey
Bioaccumulation Dynamics of Uranium in Mayflies
As part of the NSF's Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP), I spent six months working with the USGS in Fort Collins, CO and Menlo Park, CA to perform experiments using laboratory-bred mayflies to better understand the uptake, elimination, and bioaccumulation of uranium in the bodies of aquatic insects. In 2012, the Department of Interior put a 20 year moratorium on mining for uranium in the Grand Canyon Region of the U.S. In response to this halt on development, the USGS has been tasked with gaining a better understanding of the impacts this activity may have on the biological, cultural, and water resources in the region. These experiments give us a better understanding of any hazards uranium in waterways poses to aquatic insects, and the fish, frogs, bats,birds, and arthropods that consume them.
Graduate Work at the University of South Dakota
Effects of Tile Drainage and Surface Runoff on Larval and Adult Aquatic Insects
This project focuses on larval and emerging insect communities in 18 wetlands of variable agricultural influence in the Prairie Potholes of South Dakota. Two summers (2015 and 2016) of collecting larval and aquatic insects, water quality, and habitat assessments have been completed and the lab work involved in this project, such as aquatic insect identification and data analysis, is well underway. We hope this long-term project will enhance understanding of the impacts that tile drainage and surface runoff inputs containing agricultural contaminants have on these aquatic ecosystems.
Effects of selenium and atrazine on larval and adult aquatic insects
This second component of my thesis work pinpoints two agricultural contaminants that are frequently detected and commonly co-occurring in waterways (including our wetland study sites), selenium and atrazine. Atrazine is among the most widely used herbicides in the country, and selenium is an essential mineral that comes from the soil, but can prove toxic to aquatic life when delivered in large doses, as through farming. These contaminants have yet to be studied together in an experimental setting, and in the summer of 2016 I performed a controlled outdoor experiment to better understand their effects on aquatic insect communities. As a more carefully monitored partner to our field study, this six week project serves to give us insight into exactly what role these particular contaminants are playing in insect communities, and how these results align with the patterns we see in the field.
Undergraduate Work at Clarion University
Effects of atrazine on crayfish chemical cue response
Started in the fall of 2013, this project aims to analyze the sub-lethal impacts of herbicide pollutants on aquatic life, specifically crayfish. Crayfish are tested for their responses to food and alarm cues singly, and for their responses to both cues simultaneously. The test is completed with and without a 24 hour exposure to Atrazine. As leader of this project, I was responsible for the research into background literature, experimental design, writing of grant proposals, building of testing apparatuses, execution of experiments, analysis of data, and presentation at various conferences. Through the experiment I mentored a team of underclassmen who assisted with testing and building of the experimental apparatuses. Below the poster highlighting the project's findings and a picture of the flowing water system in which crayfish were tested for responses to single chemical cues can be found.
Effects of atrazine on Orconectes Rusticus chemosensory hair structure
In an attempt to uncover a physical mechanism for the changes in behavioral response that my preliminary research indicated, I began working with another undergraduate in fall of 2014. We chose to systematically expose rusty crayfish in standing water to different levels of atrazine for different amounts of time for later comparison of chemosensory hair features across treatment groups using scanning electron miscroscopy. Through this project, we fully demostrated several of the scanning electron microscope's functions, and took hundreds of images that are still being analyzed at the university. Some of these images are available below.
Assessing variability in epidermal microbial communities on spotted salamanders during mating migration
In a new project for 2015 that I helped to develop, we utilized a drift fence to capture spotted salamanders both as the travel toward a forested pool to mate and from the pool post-mating. Once captured, we swabbed each salamander and plated its epidermal microbial community in an EcoPlate, which assessed functional diversity through carbon-source usage. Differences in functional diversity between groups before and after pool activity were hypothesized, and results are still pending.
Impact of Bisphenol A (BPA), an environmental estrogen, on zebra fish aggression
Working with other undergraduate researchers through 2014 and spring of 2015, I had the opportunity to participate in this project which looked at the impacts of exposure to BPA on zebra fish aggression levels. The study had a control set of zebra fish subjected to normal housing conditions and one with the same conditions, only a BPA level in their water. Fish were treated for a three weeks and videotaped for five minutes each weekly with a mirror presented to them. Videos were analyzed for behavior based on aggressive reactions toward the mirror.
Impacts of disinfectants on the microbial communities of the spotted salamander
I had the opportunity to work with this project from the fall of 2012 to spring of 2015 as an assistant to other student researchers. The study examines the impacts that different disinfectants known to treat the amphibian killing fungus, Batrochochytrium dendrobatidis (BD), have on the natural microflora of spotted salamanders.
Crayfish population assessment in Piney Creek, Limestone Township, Clarion County, PA
In the fall of 2012, this was my first experience leading an undergraduate research project. As part of a larger research question identifying interspecific competition between queen snakes (Regina septemvittata) and stocked trout in a local stream, I conducted a mark-recapture survey for crayfish. Queen snakes are crayfish specialists, and there was concern that the trout being stocked in the stream were too consuming crayfish, thus adding an unusual layer of competition to the community. Highlights of this study were leading a team of undergraduate researchers in field work (seen below) and designing survey protocols.