Every spring, the James H. Oliver, Jr. Institute for Coastal Plain Science (ICPS) invites Georgia Southern University graduate students in any scientific discipline to apply for a $4,200 summer research assistantship to support his/her thesis research efforts. Two such awards are made on a competitive basis with priority given to projects of high quality that fulfill the mission of the ICPS.
Renee Nowicki is a M.S. student in the Department of Biology and is advised by Dr. Josh Gibson. Renee is investigating an interesting parasitism in which the queen of the Usurper Cone Ant, Dorymyrmex smithi, enters the nest of the Pyramid Ant, Dorymyrmex bureni, and kills the queen but leaves the remaining Pyaramid Ant workers alive to raise the offspring of the Usurper Cone Ant queen. Both of these ant species are common in sandy habitats of the Atlantic Coastal Plain and Renee is interested in determining the mechanism that allows the parasitic queen to infiltrate host colonies without being chemically detected.
Conner Simon is a M.S. student in the Department of Biology and is advised by Dr. Risa Cohen. Worldwide microplastics are ubiquitous in aquatic ecosystems and Conner’s research is investigating how the length of plastic microfibers will influence their toxicity to zooplankton species and ultimately impact freshwater plankton community composition. If plastic microfibers have a significant negative impact on zooplankton abundance and composition, these effects could cascade up the food web resulting in decline in higher level consumers such as fish.
Sidney Anderson is a M.S. student in the Department of Biology and is advised by Dr. Lance McBrayer. Sidney’s research examines the thermal preferences of a near-threatened species of lizard, Sceloporus woodi, that inhabits fragments of endangered long-leaf pine and sand pine scrub habitat in central Florida. This research will reveal the impacts that current forest management practices have on the success of this lizard and will point to modifications in management efforts that could be made to allow this species to persist.
Galen Costomiris is a M.S. student in the Department of Geology and Geography and is advised by Dr. Christine Hladik. Using satellite imagery, Galen is developing a classification scheme for tidal fresh forests along the Altamaha River in southeast Georgia. The existence of these forests is threatened by sea level rise because they occur at the boundary of fresh and salt water ecosystems. Galen’s ultimate goal is to develop a tool that can be used to document sea level rise impacts on tidal fresh forests throughout the southeastern US.
Ryne Maness is a M.S. student in the Department of Biology and is advised by Dr. Lisa Brown. Ryan is documenting the prevalence of pathogens in cat fleas of Bulloch County that have the potential to be transmitted to humans. These pathogens cause diseases such as murine typhus, flea-
borne spotted fever, and cat scratch disease. His survey will assist public health officials in the risk assessment of flea-borne disease outbreaks and will lead to the development of infection models for future laboratory use.
Shannon Matzke is a M.S. student in the Department of Biology and is advised by Dr. Lissa Leege. Shannon is working closely with the city of Tybee Island on the Georgia coast to evaluate the effectiveness of various methods of restoring degraded sand dunes. Her project will ultimately determine how well the current dune projects that the city is carrying out on the island will restore ecological function to these degraded coastal habitats.
Corina Newsome is a M.S. student in the Department of Biology and is advised by Dr. Elizabeth Hunter. Corina is investigating nest predation risk in seaside sparrows, a bird that builds its nests in the grasses of salt marshes. These birds are threatened by sea level rise and encroaching urbanization, and Corina’s goal is to provide wildlife managers with information necessary for constructing effective management strategies to protect seaside sparrows and other marsh-nesting birds.
Sergio Sabat – Bonilla is a M.S. student in the Department of Biology and is advised by Dr. Checo Colon-Gaud. Sergio’s research is focused on fresh water wetlands, areas common in the Coastal Plain that provide important ecosystem services, such as nutrient cycling and carbon storage. Changes in the frequency and periodicity of intense storms and periods of severe drought are occurring with climate change and Sergio’s research is providing key insight into which communities of aquatic invertebrates are benefitting or suffering from these significant shifts in hydrology.
Angela Shaffer was an M.S. student in the Department of Biology, advised by Dr. Checo Colon-Gaud. Angela’s goal is to develop a framework to better understand the response of southeastern coastal plain wetlands to predicted climate change. Wetlands store large amounts of carbon, but their ability to do so in the future will be affected dramatically by a changing climate. This project will document changes in a series of experimental ponds that are manipulated by Angela to simulate different patterns of flooding and drought. In addition, this project will incorporate controlled fire regimes, a common management strategy that prevents hardwoods from invading wetlands.
Laura Young was an M.S. student in the Department of Biology, advised by Dr. Kerrie Sendall. Like Angela, Laura’s study addresses climate change effects, but focuses on three dominant pine species in the southeast. The goal is to quantify the negative effects of three interrelated factors, climate change, invasive species, and altered fire regimes, on the ability of these pine species to grow and reproduce. Ultimately, findings from this project will allow natural resource personnel to make more informed decisions when it comes to management of these important tree species.
Rebecca Scott was an M.S. student in the Department of Biology (thesis advisor Dr. Jamie Roberts), investigating the role that environmental factors such as water velocity, channel shape, and water chemistry play in shaping fish communities in Atlantic Coastal Plain streams. Findings from this study will be incorporated into conservation biology applications that are focused on Atlantic Coastal Plain fish populations and their associated habitat. Rebecca is currently a PhD student at the University of South Florida – College of Marine Science.
Mattie Whitesell was an M.S. student in the Department of Biology (thesis advisor Dr. John Carroll), studying the factors contributing to hatching success in endangered loggerhead sea turtles that nests annually along the Georgia coast. Using field survey techniques, Mattie will investigate whether nest relocation increases hatch success and will determine which combination of biological and geological factors have the largest influence on hatch success.
Lauren Neel was an M.S. student in the Department of Biology (thesis advisor Dr. Lance McBrayer) and is currently working on her PhD at Arizona State University with Dr. Mike Anguilletta. Lauren’s thesis examined thermal sensitivity and thermal tolerance in populations of the Florida scrub lizard (Sceloporus woodi) that occupy both long-leaf pine and scrub forest habitats. Fragmentation of habitat poses a major threat to this species in the southeastern Coastal Plain and results from Lauren’s study will be used to predict how the Florida scrub lizard may fare in a globally changing climate.
Matthew Scanlon was an M.S. student in the Department of Biology (thesis advisor Dr. Christine Bedore), investigating interactions between shrimp fisherman and sharks and sawfish along the Georgia coast. Specifically, Matthew accompanied shrimp fisherman to document how often shrimp nets get damaged and which fish species are causing damage. He also developed and tested a cost-effective electromagnetic deterrent system that reduces damage to shrimp nets by repelling sharks and sawfish.
Jason Duff was an M.S. student in the Department of Biology (thesis advisor Dr. Risa Cohen) and used field and laboratory methods to determine how antibiotics released into flowing waters, such as rivers, impact phytoplankton communities. Phytoplankton are microscopic algae that form the base of many aquatic food webs so Jason’s project aided in developing water resource protection and management strategies.
Jamie Alfieri was an M.S. student in the Department of Biology (thesis advisor Dr. Tavis Anderson), who worked to determine if parasite loads in killifish can be an indicator of salt marsh health along the Georgia coast. Interestingly, he predicted that more pristine salt marshes would have more diverse and species-rich parasite communities, thus allowing parasites to be used as a bioindicator of marsh health.
Last updated: 4/24/2022