Zach Gajewski

Biological Sciences

Zach received his bachelors in biological sciences from Virginia Tech in 2015. During his time as an undergraduate, he was involved in community outreach and served as an Environmental Educator in Nantucket, Massachusetts. During this experience, he taught children ages 4-17 about costal ecology and led public and private nature trips. He also became involved in a number of local science projects, including monitoring barn owl populations, studying biodiversity of snakes on the island, and reintroducing the American Burying Beetle.

Around the same time, Zach became involved in undergraduate research, studying amphibian chytrid fungus and amphibian microbial communities. He tested growth of the fungal pathogen when grown with different microbes on amphibians, to help find a probiotic for the pathogen. Zach also joined labs focusing on stream ecology and limnology, where he investigated aquatic macroinvertebrates metacommunities in a stream network and phytoplankton and zooplankton dynamics in reservoirs.  His undergraduate research project combined topics from all three labs to investigate how zooplankton can be used as a biological control for the amphibian chytrid fungus.

Zach joined the Johnson Lab in Fall 2016 as a Ph.D student focusing on disease ecology. Zach is interested how anthropogenic factors, including urbanization and eutrophication, influence disease dynamics. Specifically, he works on the amphibian chytrid fungus and how the environment influences microbial communities on amphibians. These microbial communities associated with amphibians have been shown to offer some resistance to the fungal pathogen, and therefore, changes to them could alter disease dynamics in the system. To do this, Zach will combine statistical modeling, mathematical modeling, and field work.

Zach is currently working with a nature conservatory, Mianus River Gorge Preserve NY, to examine how amphibian’s cutaneous microbiome is altered by environmental factors. Zach hopes to help the park manage their wetlands and amphibian populations. His dissertation study will examine environmental conditions across wetlands in the park and compare amphibian’s microbial communities at each of theses sites. During this time, he will also be serving as a mentor for a local high school student and helping them complete their own field project.

During his time as a graduate student, Zach wants to learn how to communicate his findings in an effective manner and to a more general audience. Communicating science to the general public and participating in outreach projects was a major part of his undergraduate experience and he hopes to continue these initiatives throughout his PhD program. By participating in the Interfaces of Global Change IGEP, he believes he will gain the skills needed to communicate his science to policy makers and the general public in an effective manner.

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