Biology Department Graduate Research Symposium

The Graduate Research Symposium featured nine graduate students, including Megan Napoli, pictured above. Photo Courtesy of Megan Napoli
The Graduate Research Symposium featured nine graduate students, including Megan Napoli, pictured above. Photo Courtesy of Megan Napoli
The Graduate Research Symposium featured nine graduate students, including Megan Napoli, pictured above.
Photo Courtesy of Megan Napoli

SC Web Editor

The Biology Department Graduate Research Symposium provides an opportunity for all graduate students majoring in biology to present their research to an audience of faculty, family, and fellow students.

This year’s symposium occurred on November 15, 2013, and received participation from nine graduate students.

The first presentation was “Acadian Flycatcher Ecology and Behavior within Hemlock Dominated Habitats in Northeastern Pennsylvania” by Megan Napoli.

Napoli’s research focused on the negative impact caused by the presence of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an invasive species from Japan, in northeastern forests.

Woolly Adelgids feed on the sap of hemlock and spruce trees, and infected trees die within five to ten years of contracting the pest.

Acadian Flycatchers, birds that have a strong preference for nesting in Eastern Hemlocks, have been forced to nest in hardwood trees, as well as in branches farther off the ground than is normally seen in nature.

The next presentation was by Meaghan Bird, who presented “Prevalence of Borrelia miyamotoi in Tick and Wildlife species of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut.”

Borrelia miyamotoi is a flagellated spirochete bacterium that causes a relapsing fever in infected humans, as well as symptoms similar to those of Lyme disease, excluding the stereotypical “bull’s eye.”

The bacterium was first discovered in Japan in 1995, and its first American victim was claimed earlier this year in New Jersey.

Bird collaborated with the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife to study the prevalence of the bacterium in white-footed mice, eastern wild turkeys, black bears, deer ticks, and Lone-star ticks. Bird is still collecting and extracting her samples, but hopes to finish her research in the near future.

The next project shared was that of Shawqui Darwish, whose research was entitled “The Prevalence of Babesiosis in American Black Bears of New Jersey.” Babesia microti is a protozoan parasite whose infections can be severe. Forty-two of the black bears from which Darwish collected blood samples tested positive for the parasite.

The prevalence of the babesia was studied with regards to climate, local vegetation, possible hosts, vectors, pathogen dispersal, and other factors.

According to Darwish, “Babesiosis is becoming an increasing zoonotic concern, especially in areas where the disease is emerging and not yet endemic.”

While some students, like Darwish, had completed the majority of their research, some students were still in their project’s earlier stages. One such student was Robert Heil, who presented “Snails and Parasite Research.”

The snail Heil is focusing on is Elimia virginica, which is a type of freshwater snail native to the east coast. This snail is known to host the parasite Sphaeridometria globulus.

Since starting his research, Heil has been alerted to the presence of other parasites using the snails as hosts as well. Heil hopes to be able to test and preserve his parasite samples in the future.

Another presentation that focused on parasitism was that of Larry Laubach. He gave a presentation entitled “Occurrence of intraerythrocytic parasites in Chrysemys picta, Chelydra serpentina, Sternotherus odoratus, and Trachemys scripta within Pennsylvania and New Jersey.” These species are different kinds of local turtles.

Laubach worked to trap the turtles from the wild, and then collected blood samples and analyzed the blood smears. Using his research, Laubach concluded, “Haemogregarine infection is more prevalent in non-basking species when compared to basking species. When infected, levels of parasitemia were greater among non-basking species when compared to basking species.”

Using the “mark and recapture” technique, Laubach plans to create population estimates for the different turtles, and he hopes to be able to identify the different species of Haemogregarine collected during his research.

Utilizing wildlife in order to study parasites and infections was a common theme of this year’s research symposium. After Laubach, Don Trapolsi presented his research topic, which was “3’ Exonuclease qPCR Assays for Disease Detection in Wildlife Samples.” Currently, nested PCR is the typical approach used to detect the DNA of pathogenic microbes in ticks.

However, Trapolsi wanted to explore whether other techniques could be more effective. Nested PCR is a time-consuming process in which fragments of DNA can be amplified and copied.

The technology that Trapolsi wanted to test is known as 3’ Exonuclease Assay. While this technique can be very expensive to utilize, the samples obtained can be extremely specific and therefore more valuable for research.

Trapolsi’s data is in its preliminary stages, and he hopes to be able to study six different diseases commonly carried by ticks soon.

Another project relating to parasitism was entitled “Survey of Endoparasites and Ectoparasites of Eastern Cottontails in Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania.” This was presented by D’Orsay Mancuso.

Wild cottontail rabbits are often infested with parasites, such as ticks, fleas, and nematodes. Mancuso plans to use her research to study factors that affect prey populations, as well as to help manage wildlife.

Mancuso hunted, trapped, and collected rabbits from the roadside. Their intestines and stomachs were dissected and examined under a microscope. Mancuso’s goals for the future are to increase her sample size, as well as to confirm the species of parasites found in her study.

Being infected by parasites or other diseases can often cause innumerable deaths to a species. One of the research topics that discussed the seriousness of disease concerned local bats.

Christopher Hauer presented “Community Structure of Bats in the Delaware Water Gap NRA Following the Emergence of White-nose Syndrome.” White-nose Syndrome is a white, filamentous growth caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, and it has caused the deaths of 5.7 to 6.7 million bats.

Hauer hoped to be able to document the presence of different bat species in the area, even if they were not available for capture. Using acoustic surveys, his research focused on identifying bat activity and changes in species composition, as well as potential hotspots of bat activity. Acoustic monitoring helped Hauer to record six separate species of bats from 4,030 echolocation calls over eighteen nights of sampling.

Another presentation focusing on bat populations was that of Liz McGovern, whose topic was “Assessment of Potential Migration Corridors for the Tree Bats of Eastern North America within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.”

The tree bats of North America can either be long-distance migrants or latitudinal migrants. Long-distance migrants usually travel over 1,000 kilometers between summer and winter grounds, while latitudinal migrants travel to lower latitudes for the winter and higher latitudes for the summer.

The bats that McGovern focused on were the Eastern Red Bat, the Hoary Bat, and the Silver-haired Bat. McGovern studied migratory activity along the Delaware River and adjacent ridge tops. She also attempted to correlate bat activity with weather conditions.

This year’s Graduate Research Symposium explored numerous topics within the various facets of biology. Participating graduate students worked closely with professors to develop ideas, and then conducted their research under the guidance of trained professionals in the field.

Any students who are interested in biology are welcome to speak to members of the ESU Biology Department in order to discover what opportunities are available within the field.

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