Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Research at the Virginia Commonwealth University Rice Rivers Center is alive and thriving.
Almost 30 VCU faculty members, students and community members presented research – all of which was conducted at or supported by the center – at the sixth annual VCU Rice Rivers Center Research Symposium last week.
A standing-room-only crowd of close to 90 heard 12 presentations in the center’s conference room overlooking the James River before seeing 16 research posters in adjacent rooms and outside.
“That’s what we are,” said Leonard Smock, Ph.D., director of the Rice Rivers Center. “This center facilitates environmental research and environmental education, and having this symposium is a fantastic validation of the mission of the center and the operation of the center.”
The presentations represented research conducted from far western Virginia, east to the Chesapeake Bay and south to Panama.
Jameson Hinkle is a graduate student pursuing his master’s degree in environmental studies at VCU. He discussed his exploration of new ways to track Atlantic Sturgeon – without ever having to catch the prehistoric fish – via environmental DNA scanning tools.
Dan Albrecht-Mallinger, who just received his master’s degree in biology at VCU, presented his research on managing and growing populations within animal habitats (warblers in Highland County, in this case).
“Now we have a growing understanding that there is a social component to what makes a habitat good, specifically whether or not there are other members of the same species there,” he said. “We were investigating whether you can broadcast [the bird’s] song to recruit them to new habitat areas, and we found that it is totally an effective tool.”
Anna Tucker, who also just received her master’s degree in biology at VCU, reported on findings related to brood parasitism among specific species of birds. Brood parasitism occurs when an animal – usually a bird, fish or insect – manipulates a host either of the same or different species to raise its young. This process relieves the parasitic parent from the investment of rearing young or building nests.
“The wide variety of talks that we’ve had today tells something about the breadth and the depth of the research that we facilitate,” Smock said.
Joe Wood, who presented “Trophic Pathways and the Fate of Algal Production in the Tidal Freshwater James River,” earned his Ph.D. this spring in VCU’s Integrative Life Sciences program.
All of the research we’ve done has really been centered out here [at the Rice Rivers Center],” he said. “The Rice Center has just been a really integral part of the project to understand the James River ecosystem.”
And this understanding and support the Rice Rivers Center provides continues to grow.
Smock announced at the symposium that 14 VCU Rice Rivers Center Student Research Awards will help fund 16 undergraduate and graduate research projects next school year. Undergraduates receive $500, master’s degree students receive $1,000 and Ph.D. students receive $1,500 to cover costs for supplies, field work and stipends.
This year’s awards bring the total number granted since 2005 to 131. Nine of Friday’s presenters were recipients of one of these awards, several of which have been translated into published research.
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