NSFA 2015 Graduate Student Research Awards Competition

The public recently gathered in Stodder Hall to attend the Graduate Student Research Awards Competition, where selected graduate students from different majors at the University of Maine in the School of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture presented their own research on topics varying from the role of zooplankton in the biological carbon pump to eco-friendly thermal insulation composite foam boards.

Three students, Kaitlyn O’Donnell, Jennifer Lund, and Corianne Tatariw, represented the School of Biology and Ecology with their presentations on extensive research and exploration of Entomology, Ecology, and Environmental Sciences.

Lund, an entomology student who is hoping to graduate in August and continue her work in entomological research, studies the biology and development of Cerceris fumipennis, a predatory wasp that is used to monitor the invasive beetle species. This species, the emerald ash borer, is a beetle native to Asia and is highly destructive to ash trees in the United States.

O’Donnell, who conducts her research on the survival and development of the winter moth on seven different host plants, focuses the majority of her work on forest and agricultural ecology. O’Donnell, who is also an entomology student, mentioned the increase in available funding for her work due to the recent outbreak of winter moths in Maine. This outbreak has led to severe defoliation and mortality of a very wide range of hosts, thus affecting entire ecosystems. O’Donnell plans on graduating in the upcoming months and is searching for a job that will allow her to work in conservation while conducting research and public outreach.

Planning to graduate from her Ecology and Environmental Sciences program in May and hoping to establish a research institute in the future, Tatariw focuses her work on determining the impact of long-term atmospheric nitrogen deposition on soil microbes. By relating the subsequent change in the communities to the activity of an enzyme, she is able to determine how that particular enzyme is important for decomposition. Through this research she has come to several conclusions concerning the soil conditions and microbial communities in the natural world. These conclusions include the determination that, in her words, “long term nitrogen deposition changes the microbial community by reducing fungal biomass,” while also affecting enzyme activity through those changes in the microbial community.

The purpose of the yearly research competition is to provide NSFA graduate students with the opportunity to present their research on complex environmental problems while informing the community about the relevance and impact of their work. Faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate students enjoy attending the event so that they may gain perspective and acquire knowledge that can continue to be shared.