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Ecology well represented at 2011 CURO Symposium

May. 11, 2011

Writer: Beth Gavrilles, bethgav@uga.edu

Contact: Misha Boyd, mlboyd@uga.edu

The Odum School of Ecology was well represented at the University of Georgia Honors Program’s 2011 Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities Symposium, with seven Ecology undergraduates presenting papers and six presenting posters. Seven Ecology faculty members served as CURO mentors, and one, Associate Professor John Drake, received the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Early Career Faculty Award. The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory received the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program Award. The CURO Symposium took place on April 4 in Athens.

“CURO has become a tradition that our students look forward to each year,” said John Gittleman, dean of the Odum School. “In some ways, CURO has developed into a competition for which students can present their best work—a healthy competition that brings out the best scientific research.”

Dina Abdulhadi, a Roosevelt Institute scholar from Alpharetta, presented the paper “Deep Horizon: the politicization of science,” exploring the way science has been used in creating environmental policy. She worked with faculty mentor Leara Rhodes, associate professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Courtney Allen of Cumming presented a poster, “Salamander trophic position and diet diversity in southern Appalachian headwater streams,” about the ways diet and life history affect the response of salamanders to environmental change. Her faculty mentor was Associate Professor of Ecology Amy Rosemond.

Melanie Fratto, from Peachtree City, presented a poster, “Do black-furred animals compensate for high solar absorption with smaller hairs? A test with a polymorphic squirrel species,” exploring thermoregulation strategies of eastern fox squirrels. Odum School Assistant Research Scientist Andrew Davis served as her faculty mentor.

Tierney O’Sullivan, from Roswell, presented “Investigating early warning signals and critical slowing down in changing environments,” looking at potential indicators of population extinction. Her faculty mentor was Associate Professor of Ecology John Drake.

Malavika Rajeev, from Tifton, worked with Associate Professor of Ecology Sonia Altizer. She presented a paper, “The effect of parasite infection on monarch butterfly mating behavior,” as well as a poster on the same topic, which examined how and whether monarch mating behavior and success was impacted by the presence of a parasite. Rajeev was the recipient of a 2011 CURO Summer Research Fellowship.

Rebecca Risser, from Lawrenceville, presented a poster, “Effects of Ligustrum sinense presence and removal on nitrogen mineralization rates,” about how the removal of the invasive Chinese privet affects soil characteristics and processes. She worked with Professor of Ecology Paul Hendrix.

Hank Schwartz of Marietta, a Foundation Fellow and Roosevelt Institute scholar, presented “Reducing water usage by repowering plants in Georgia,” exploring the potential for updating Georgia’s power plants as a strategy for reducing the adverse effects of droughts. Odum School Associate Dean Laurie Fowler served as his mentor.

Theresa Stratmann of Irmo, South Carolina, presented “Changing environments: effect on extinction time and distribution,” investigating how deteriorating environmental conditions caused by temperature change affected populations of water fleas. Stratmann, who was recently inducted into the national Blue Key honor society, worked with John Drake.

Waring “Buck” Trible, a Foundation Fellow Ecology and Entomology double major from Fredericksburg, Virginia, presented “Cuticular pheromones and fire ant queens: smells like Mom,” exploring the role of pheromones in the way fire ant colonies accept new queens. His faculty mentor was Ken Ross, professor in the Department of Entomology.

Stenka Vulova, of Roswell, presented a poster, “Nutrient enrichment effects on detrital food resources in streams: implications for microbes and consumers,” exploring how nutrient enrichment affects different groups of stream organisms. She worked with Amy Rosemond.

Sam Willis of Macon presented a poster, “Diversity of orchid fungal symbionts in Estonian mine tailings,” about mycorrhizal fungi that associate with orchids in an environment with low soil nutrients and water availability. His faculty mentor was Assistant Professor of Ecology Richard Shefferson.

Sheena Zhang of Athens, a Foundation Fellow who worked with faculty mentor Laurie Fowler, presented “An analysis of green buildings: comparing Tsinghua University's Sino-Italian ecological and energy-efficient building and UGA's Odum School of Ecology building,” looking at examples of green building in the U.S. and China to gain insight into overcoming barriers to the growth of green building in both countries. Zhang also introduced CURO Symposium keynote speaker Samantha Joye, professor of marine sciences.

Associate Professor John Drake received the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Early Career Award. In the past five years, Drake has mentored seventeen undergraduates, shepherding them from the development of research questions through the publication process and into competitive graduate programs. He is known for thoroughly involving undergraduates in his research program, and has inspired his colleagues to do the same.

“His high expectations enabled us to acquire skills most students do not get until graduate school,” said Theresa Stratmann, one of his current mentees. “He invited us to his lab meetings so we could gain a better understanding of what scientists do and to incorporate us into the lab. Every week he takes time out of his schedule to meet with us and discuss our project.” Stratmann said she is continually impressed by the amount of time and sincere interest Drake devotes to undergraduates.

Associate Dean James Porter, who nominated Drake for the award, credited him with helping the Odum School attract the highest percentage of Honors students of any academic unit on campus. “All of the nominees this year were exceptionally qualified,” he said. “John’s nomination was judged against the best. This is a real honor for John and for the Odum School of Ecology.”

The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory received the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program Award. “A decade ago, SREL was the first program to receive the undergraduate mentoring award from the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities,” said UGA Vice President for Research David Lee in his letter nominating SREL for the award. “SREL’s continued commitment to involving undergraduate students in active research programs and augmenting the professional development of students in all categories has been exemplary. The learning experience of undergraduates at SREL as an integral part of the University of Georgia continues to be outstanding.”

The SREL undergraduate program began in the 1960s. It immerses students in all aspects of scientific research, including research design, ethics, data collection and analysis, and preparation of manuscripts. Many of the over 600 program alumni have gone on to graduate study, careers as faculty at colleges and universities, or positions with federal or state environmental agencies. They have received numerous awards and have co-authored over 170 scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals.

“The CURO Symposium attracts and displays the best,” said Gittleman. “This year ecology was able to really shine, with exceptional students and faculty from the Odum School presenting the most cutting-edge ecological work and SREL’s extraordinary program being honored. As a relatively small unit we are gratified by this recognition and appreciate the importance given to ecological issues.”

To learn more about the Odum School of Ecology, see www.ecology.uga.edu. To learn more about the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, see www.srel.edu.

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