GCC Undergraduate Research Grants awarded to 7 students for 2021

February 2, 2021

COVID-19 may have constrained our ability to invest in new independent projects this year, but we continue to support the research efforts of our existing students. From ant seed dispersal mechanisms, to spawning behavior of Blacknose Dace in our local Toms Creek, to invasive mosquito control and more – this year’s GCC undergraduate research grant recipients are conducting impressive remote work with GCC faculty. The research grant funds awarded for 2021 support 6 projects led by 7 outstanding undergraduate students spanning 5 undergraduate majors.

Congratulations to the following students awarded this year’s GCC undergraduate research grants! Read more about their research projects below.


Investigating quality of occurrence data for conservation 

Tess Alexander, Biological Sciences

Working with Dr. Meryl Mims & IGC Fellow Chloe Moore

Biodiversity describes the variety of species in a habitat and is important for the development and function of ecosystems. It is studied using species distribution models (SDMs) that use occurrence and environmental data to predict where a species likely occurs. With the GCC grant, Tess will expand upon previous work to compare specific areas containing a high density of occurrences with landscape type, such as urban areas or in proximity to research facilities. She will also investigate patchiness, which is used to quantify the size and number of patches in distribution data. Her findings will contribute to a further understanding of potential biases across datasets to ultimately improve the predictability of SDMs.


Restoring connectivity: impact on ant seed-dispersal mutualisms

Gabi Dugan, Biological Systems Engineering

& Nicole Gaspari, Biological Sciences

Working with Dr. Susan Whitehead & IGC Fellow Melissa Burt

The Savannah River Site (SRS) Corridor Experiment is a long-term ecological experiment to study how corridors function at the landscape scale. Previous work at SRS by IGC fellow, Melissa Burt, has examined how habitat connectivity and edge effects impact a ubiquitous mutualism in temperate forests: seed dispersal by ants. This work has shown that ants tend to move seeds further in habitat patches connected via corridors. Gabi and Nicole’s project will investigate the mechanisms behind that pattern by assessing how long-term manipulation of habitat connectivity has influenced ant functional traits. Analysis of these trait data will allow them to ask if the effects of habitat connectivity on ant seed-dispersal is mediated through landscape-level impacts on ant traits. 


The effect of urbanization on nest structure and incubation temperature for song sparrows

Charlotte Moore, Wildlife Conservation

Working with Dr. Kendra Sewall & IGC Fellows Sam Lane and Isaac VanDiest

Urban areas tend to be warmer than rural areas, and temperature plays a pivotal role in the development of songbird nestlings: increased incubation temperature increases the likelihood of hatching and decreases the incubation time—both leading to an increase in fledging success.Charlotte will analyze habitat differences in song sparrow nest construction and the effect on incubation and brooding temperature. This information can be helpful to wildlife managers and urban planners in the maintenance of more suitable habitat that promotes native bird populations.

song sparrow nest with eggs

Spatial variability of microbial metabolism in mining-impacted and reference streams

Natalie Murphy, Biochemistry

Working with Dr. Erin Hotchkiss & IGC Fellow Kristen Bretz

How microbial carbon cycling will respond to climate change-altered flow extremes and legacies of human impact are not well understood. Iron oxidizing bacteria populate mining-impacted streams and are of biogeochemical interest due to their role in stream carbon and nutrient cycling. This project will investigate how former coal extraction patches influence spatial variation in microbial carbon metabolism. 

A stream in a forest in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, United States.

Spawning behavior of Blacknose Dace in Toms Creek in relation to temperature and potential nest association

Tal Tomlinson, Fish Conservation

Working with Dr. Emmanuel Frimpong

The objective of this study is to determine the spawning timing, mode, and microhabitat locations of Blacknose Dace in Toms Creek. As part of a long-term study to understand the response of stream fish communities and their symbiotic reproductive interactions to climate change, this information will be crucial to understanding how water temperatures determines the spawning of Blacknose Dace and whether this species participates in nest association with other cyprinid species in Toms Creek. 

A male Blacknose Dace (Rhinichthys) minnow found in a stream in

Determine the efficacy of a new baited trap to control invasive mosquitoes

Ashlynn VanWinkle, Biochemistry

Working with Dr. Chloé Lahondère

Attractive Toxic Sugar Baits (ATSBs) have recently emerged as an efficient mosquito control strategy that targets both male and female mosquitoes by exploiting sugar feeding behaviors. Ashlynn will work to determine the efficacy of existing ATSB against this mosquito species as well as its potential impact on non-target organisms. The data gathered will provide essential insights for the deployment of the ATSB at larger scales to control this invasive species.

mosquito on insect net close up.

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.

Read more about the GCC Undergraduate Research Grant program here.